Downtown Revival

By Kelly McCarthy

February 19, 2013 Updated Feb 20, 2013 at 12:12 PM EDT

Binghamton, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Downtown Binghamton is seeing a resurgence, as new buildings and businesses are beginning to fill up the city landscape.

Local business owners say empty storefronts and desolate streets are becoming part of the past for downtown Binghamton.

"I see a lot more traffic, you see a lot of new faces, and people are talking about it," said Rob Hutchings, owner of Burger Mondays Bar & Grille.

Restaurants are covering all the bases when it comes to types of cuisine.

"The more the merrier as far as I'm concerned," said Edward Wesoloski, owner of Remlik's. "It just draws more people into the downtown area."

As more investment ideas come forward, the Binghamton Local Development Corporation -- an economic development arm of the city -- is doing what it can to keep them downtown.

"The way they do that is they provide them the low interest loans," said Tim Grippen, President of the Commission on Downtown Binghamton Development. "They also provide some services like helping people find a location, helping people work with their business plan and making sure their finances are set."

That left one less thing for Hutchings to worry about when he opened Burger Mondays three years ago.

"We had a couple sources of funding and the BLDC was one of them," Hutchings said. "With that interest rate it just makes things a little easier, so any bit of help from any place when you're trying to start up this type of business is going to be helpful."

Business owners aren't just lauding the addition of new establishments, but city's move to make access to them easier.

The Court Street Gateway project finished with improvements of nearly $4 million to bring revitalization full circle.

"Really it was one of the good public-private partnerships where private industry was wanting to move in, wanting to help Binghamton," Grippen said. "And Binghamton was doing what it could to get grants, fix up the streets, the sidewalks and make it an attractive place."

That's a new atmosphere compared to the past few years, business owners said.

"A lot of people were saying, well how are all of these restaurants going to survive or stay open, and that's when there was just three of us opening up. Now I'd say in the past three years there's about 6 or 7 restaurants and three or four more."

The revitalization is also sparking a local jump in hiring.

"When we started we had 60 something employees when we first opened, and we still employ 40 people," Wesoloski said.

Local officials are hopeful a downtown resurgence will build a sense of security that could be similar to other attractive downtown cities nearby.

"It kind of turns downtown Binghamton into like a commons area in Ithaca or the square in Syracuse," Hutchings said. "So maybe instead of someone traveling out of town for a food option, maybe they can stay right at home and be in the local area."

The revival isn't just for those who travel downtown for a night, but those who call the city streets home in old buildings turned into modern living lofts, which officials say is gaining appeal for both families and students.

"When people start to feel safe in a place and they're willing to live there then that's a good sign. Things are on the upswing," Grippen said. "And people are buying more and more lofts of their own."

A few signs that say downtown Binghamton must be doing something right.

Editors note: The second of our two-part series on a heightened downtown draw airs Wednesday night on Action News, and focus on the role student housing has played in the city's resurgence.