Improving the city’s cultural and recreational life was a theme at the Oneonta Common Council meeting on Tuesday evening, March 15. The council approved proposals for two new summer events, approved a contract for a mural and for upgrades to underground electrical wiring in Neahwa Park. .
The founder of Blendos, a local basketball league, outlined plans for a weekend basketball competition in downtown Oneonta. Wells Bridge’s Cam Hayes is keen to host the Blendorama 3 On 3 tournament the weekend of July 23-24, with matches hourly across 14 Main Street courts. It has run a summer league since 2013 and has since expanded its year-round programming at Oneonta Armory. It will be “a local sporting opportunity and an entertaining event for spectators”, he said.
The board unanimously backed the proposal after City Attorney David Merzig clarified that Blendos will need to carry liability insurance.
Anna Rutenbeck, project coordinator for the Otsego County Conservation Association, presented plans for a one-day eco-fair in Neahwa Park on July 9. The environmentally themed festival will include live local music, a puppet show, an electric car show, gardening activities and a vendor fair with information booths from local organizations and municipalities , she said. A fundraising dinner featuring Chesapeake Bay crabs is planned that evening. “We work to build coalitions,” Rutenbeck said.
The board voted unanimously in favor of the proposal. “I think it’s great that we’re having another event for our kids,” said board member Len Carson, R-Fifth Ward.
The council also unanimously approved a contract for a local artist to paint a mural on the Ford Sales Building, a former car dealership on Market Street across from the town parking lot. The city had solicited proposals for a mural in January. The Public Arts Commission selected a design by James McIlroy, a local tattoo artist and muralist. McIlroy proposed a five-foot-tall by 80-foot mural featuring an image of running foxes, integrated with a floral design. Destination Oneonta will pay the $1,000 cost for supplies and payment to the artist.
However, not all cultural proposals were without controversy. During the petitioner portion of the meeting, the council heard a complaint from Rachel Rissberger, chair of the board of directors of Oneonta World of Learning, a children’s museum in Fortin Park.
Rissberger read a statement reacting to a March 14 public forum held by Oneonta Mayor Mark Drnek on the launch of a new children’s museum downtown. She said the outcome of the meeting, which she attended, was that OWL and other local organizations endorsed “the idea of a collaborative marketing effort to raise awareness and support all organizations of varied programs that already exist”. Rissberger said she was furious that Drnek promoted her own idea without listening to feedback from groups that have been putting on children’s programs for years.
“He was in a very different meeting than us,” she said, standing in the hallway as the council meeting continued. Rissberger is the wife of council member David Rissberger, D-Third Ward.
In other town affairs:
• Council approved the appointment of three new police officers and a firefighter, at an average annual salary of $42,750. He also approved the creation of a new position, that of Community Development Assistant, to support the Director of Community Development, Judy Pangman.
• The council voted to spend $90,000 of federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 on upgrading underground electrical wiring in Neahwa Park. The project will supply electricity to vendors and food trucks during events such as EcoFair and Independence Day celebrations, and will also be used for holiday light displays. Construction will begin in April and be ready in time for July events “if we’re lucky,” city administrator Greg Mattice said.
• A new paved multi-use trail along Mill Race in Neahwa and Catella parks is also progressing with funding of approximately $100,000 from ARPA and a $50,000 donation from the Future for Oneonta Foundation. The trail, which is part of the Susquehanna Greenway, will provide a cycling and pedestrian connection from the Lettis Highway near Highway Exit 15 through the parks to Neahwa Place near River Street. “In the future, as we develop the riverfront, we hope to be able to apply for grants to continue to expand it,” Mattice said.
Mike Forster Rothbart, personal editor, can be reached at [email protected] or 607-441-7213. Follow him @DS_MikeFR on Twitter.