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Local officials plan ambitious investments with stimulus dollars

Payne Horning
WRVO News (file photo)
The city of Watertown is expected to receive nearly $23 million from the American Rescue Act

When Jeff Smith was elected mayor of Watertown in 2019, one of his long-term ambitions was to build an amphitheater in Thompson Park, a major investment that could attract visitors and maybe even new residents to the city. But the idea was quickly shelved last year when the city found itself facing a deficit amid a steep decline in sales taxes.

Now that Watertown is set to receive close to $23 million, however, Smith said the amphitheater is back on the table. He hopes to apply for a Department of Defense grant to help cover half the cost, with the other half to come from the city's stimulus resources.

"We’re looking to make improvements in city infrastructure, city recreation, quality of life activities that will benefit city residents and non-city residents that come to the city - such activities that are on wish lists we always wished we could get there."

Other government leaders are dreaming big as well. Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon has proposed building a $25-million sports complex along the shore of Onondaga Lake. And Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente wants to invest in finishing the construction of the Nexus sports complex in Utica and in building a parking garage near the new Mohawk Valley Health System hospital.

"We would like to be able to invest in some other pieces of our rebound, if you will, and growth factor that we lost out on in 2020," Picente said.

Additionally, area governments like Oneida County and the City of Oswego also hope to invest these federal dollars into those members of their communities that have struggled the most over the past year and a half local businesses. Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow has announced plans this year to forgive small business loans the city gave out during the pandemic and introduced plans to offer grants to new businesses that open in or relocate to the city.

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.