A warm sun illuminated the bricks — both those more than 150 years old and those placed in the past few weeks. A crowd of everyday people and business owners and officials talked and shared smiles. The news crews pointed their attention toward a small stage. A local rock band stood at the ready. Oswego was ready for its time to shine.
Earlier this week, an official ribbon-cutting and celebration of the new Water Street Square pocket park heralded the progress the Port City has made with the $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant from the state, a lot of brilliant planning and plenty of minds and hands and hearts coming together to bring imagination to life. Billy Barlow, the mayor in his late 20s who is running unopposed for election this year, gave a short and optimistic speech congratulating everybody and cheering the community’s cooperation, the traditional ribbon cutting unfolded and then 3 Of A Kind (plus fourth member Johnny Luber) played some rock favorites.
It was Oswego and yet it was also unlike the Oswego I had known for years.
When I moved to Oswego, I found a sizable quotient of curmudgeonry, generally older folks talking about some “good old days” of Oswego yet not particularly doing anything positive to make it better (political will in those days often had an awful lot to do with personal interests). Letters to the editor often included the sentence “Wake up, Oswego!” warning about horrible things like progress and new ideas and not being stuck in the past. In truth, they were sleepwalking in a haze of memories, wanting to pull Oswego back to that real or imagined past instead of looking for a better future.
The DRI funding woke up the community in a different way. Sure, some people immediately fixated on the waterpark which seemed like a curiosity, but far more important were the proposals inviting people to live in our historic downtown. I lived downtown my first years here and, despite not having much to spend, had more than my fair share of dinners, pizza and beverages in the heart of the city. When the lofts in the Browne-Davis building opened, young professionals responded (a waiting list was almost immediate) and kept much of their business downtown. Many of the renovations and mixed-use construction continue to swell the downtown population.
As people sung and swayed and held their beers aloft with 3 Of A Kind (+1) on a night Barlow waived the open container law, you could still see For Sale and For Rent signs around you, but you also knew whomever took those opportunities would see a more vibrant scene and willing audience. It’s no exaggeration that everybody I talked to that night was excited and happy for progress. It’s something I discussed repeatedly during New Faculty and Staff Orientation, and something our newest employees had already noticed.
While we await more progress for the next 150 days, and the next 150 weeks, and ponder its legacy for the next 150 years, the sunshine and warmth are both physical and palpable, as Oswego steps up for its time to shine.