In December 2021, New York State awarded the City of Gloversville a $10 million grant as part of the state’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI). Although some might view this as the pièce de résistance, it was, according to city officials, just one more part of a carefully orchestrated plan to bring a renaissance to this upstate community.
Gloversville’s story is not unlike those of many cities across the United States. It was a thriving industrial center in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. It was home to 200 tanneries whose employees, representing 80 percent of the city’s population, produced or vended 90 percent of all gloves sold in the United States.
This industry began to decline in the 1950s and 1960s. In the 1980s, 86 tanneries had to close after manufacturers took their business overseas. Abandoned factories began to decay. Some even crumpled entirely, leaving a pile of asbestos-ridden rubble. This caused a sharp decline in the city’s economic health, and void of its main economic driver, the economy collapsed in the 1990s. The quality of life for residents declined significantly.
Those days are over.
Responding to residents clamoring for the rebirth of the once flourishing city, the municipal government and county economic development agencies, partnering with the citizens themselves, put into motion a very calculated and carefully thought-out plan of action to redevelop residential neighborhoods and brownfields in order to turn Gloversville into what Mayor Vince DeSantis describes as “a 21st century post-industrial community.”
“We’re now on the verge of a renaissance, and it was just really based on all the planning and the dogged work that we’ve done over the last three to four years that put us in this position today,”
The announcement of the DRI grant garnered a great deal of press. These funds will be used to develop a strategic investment plan and implement key projects under the leadership of a local planning committee. One of these projects is Kearney Development’s Glove City Lofts, a 75-unit affordable housing building for mixed-income tenants, including artists.
However, DeSantis points out that the city received several key grants prior to the DRI that paved the road for this latest infusion of funds. In the five years prior to receipt of the DRI grant, the city received $8 million in grants for revitalization projects.
Among them was a planning grant as part of the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program. With these funds, the city will work on developing the waterfront area along the Cayadutta Creek and downtown Gloversville, creating recreational spaces and preserving historic architecture.
In addition, Gloversville was one of 149 communities nationwide to receive grants in 2019 from the Environmental Protection Agency. The agency awarded the city a $300,000 Brownfields Assessment Grant that will help the city assess abandoned tannery sites on the Cayadutta Creek. Once assessed, the city can begin the process of redeveloping old factories and former Fonda, Johnstown & Gloversville (FJ&G) Railroad tracks into public areas with expanded green spaces, trails, and perhaps even a skate park, DeSantis said.
In 2020, New York State awarded the city a Brownfield Opportunity Act grant which will allow the city to map, survey, and plan redevelopment of brownfield sites as well as fund community outreach to involve Gloversville citizens.
Throughout the process, the city has involved Gloversville residents, soliciting their input on which proposed projects mean the most to them. “The community is giving us input, and they’re involved in these processes,” said James Hannahs, former Downtown Gloversville specialist for the Fulton County Center for Regional Growth. “They’re coming to open houses and presentations. We’ve gotten so much support from the community.”
The grants the city sought played an important role in bringing the community in on the rebirth of their city. “These grants have given us this platform to not only plan, but to outreach to the community for their input on the redevelopment of huge areas of the city that we have never been able to do before,” DeSantis said. “It has opened up funding sources for the redevelopment of these areas that we never had access to before.”
Lisa Nagle, a principal with Elan Planning, Design, & Landscape Architecture, PLLC, the firm that has been working with city officials on these efforts, points out that there are four public projects planned as part of the redevelopment. These include creating an urban piazza on South Main Street where an old building was demolished, connecting downtown streets and the rail trail with bicycle lanes, creating a farmers market with an ice skating rink, and connecting Castiglione Park with St. Thomas Square.
“Those public projects are so important because we have lots of private commercial projects downtown, but the public spaces, to have those enhanced, really fosters the catalytic effect that all these commercial projects are giving us,” DeSantis said.
According to DeSantis, the formula for success includes vibrant, walkable, livable neighborhoods combined with a thriving commercial center. “We’re now in a position to move both of those things forward in the next few years,” he said. “I think we’re creating the quintessential city for that work/life balance. We’re a small city near a tremendous array of recreational opportunities with a small-town atmosphere, but a big enough city to have interesting things like a live performance theater, a vibrant arts community, and restaurants—all fun things to do and fun places to be.”
In addition to federal and state grant funding, the city sought out private endowments to invest in its public spaces in order to create places where the community can gather and enjoy outdoor movies and concerts, among other events.
“Throughout New York State, there are a lot of these renaissances and resurgences in downtowns in all regions of New York State,” said Hannahs. “But where I think Gloversville is very unique is that it’s doing a well-round redevelopment strategy with catalytic programs that are complementing each other. There has been this really consistent, powerful stacking of different resources that are focused on the city and not just downtown. We’re taking this really wide, sweeping approach to redevelopment that’s unique.”
No matter what the reason…
Fulton County has a beauty all its own. making it your ideal destination to call home.