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After Flood, Middleburgh Sees Swift Revival

Written By Editor on 8/11/14 | 8/11/14

Middleburgh was the second-hardest hit community by 2011's devastating flooding. Faced with much of its business sector and residential areas demolished by Hurricane Irene, recovery seemed to be over a decade in the making.

Now, just two years later Middleburgh appears to be poised for its quickest growth in decades.

The community lost six businesses and dozens of residents in the flood. There is still a waiting list to demolish flood-damaged buildings and some people still have parts of their homes yet to be fixed. However, for much of the village it would appear that the deluge never happened at all.

In the middle of 2012, various programs were put in place to assist both flood victims and build up a residential and commercial base battered by the economy and weather. $20,000 in flood recovery money was collected and sent out directly to businesses and homeowners by the Village government. The Middleburgh Area Business Association was created by Mayor Matthew Avitabile and over 40 businesses have joined to coordinate efforts for events and initiatives. Their most recent series, the Fourth Friday events, have become very popular, bringing in hundreds of visitors each month.

Fourth Friday events on Main Street. Photo credit: Sheila Donegan
Various grant programs left for dead were revived and used to fund the recovery. A Main Street Block Grant intended for a 2008 completion was found moribund and closed out in 2013. The revived program allowed over $150,000 for repairs to over a dozen businesses. Another $20,000 was used for many of the most recognizable projects of the last three years: a deer mural, a picnic pavilion, wildflowers, and other projects. Another mural was placed up in 2012 from another formerly mishandled grant fund. A New York Community Block Grant meant for a 2006 completion assisted with another $60,000 in low-interest loans for businesses-- partially used for flood damage and some used to nab new businesses such as Green Wolf Brewery and Valley Tax Accounting. Another grant intended for closure in 2003 was used to complete the Creekside Park project on Baker Avenue. Several damaged homes were taken down and turned into greenspace. Across the Schoharie Creek, a new pavilion was erected by the Knights of Columbus and Rotary Club. Trustee William Morton has been expanding his wildflower project in the area and placed a monument to Timothy Murphy. All told, almost $1 million in grants were rescued that would have instead been handed back to the state.

Much of the recovery took place after a fearful jolt. After the effort by former Mayor Gary Hayes to dissolve the Village government in early 2013, residents reacted decisively against the plan. The occurrence re-galvanized volunteer and local efforts to revive the community. The Neighbors Eating Together dinners, a cooperation between Middleburgh's four churches grew to large proportions, now gaining around 100 neighbors per week in the fall and winter to dine and converse. The Rotary worked with other groups to put on the first kayak/canoe race in 30 years this April.

Meanwhile, the summer that saw a brief flash flood also saw the sun. William Morton's wildflower project arose at the same time as other projects. The Village reached out to various business types to meet needs in the community. So far, the effort has paid off. Offices for an architect, an engineer, and an accountant have all met the Mayor's call. Morton's wildflowers attracted hundreds of visitors and created a boost for the local economy. New flags lined the streets. In June, Middleburgh held its second annual Heritage Day. The Best House, now under the stewardship of Bobbi Ryan of the Middleburgh Library saw a large increase of new and returning visitors, events, and a new sign. Quilt squares placed by the Schoharie County Quilt Barn Trail now grace the Middleburgh Library, NBT Bank, and other structures around town.

The underlying success seems to be a plethora of effort from the community. Led by the local government and businesses, projects from the Rotary, Century Club, Library, and the churches have grown cohesive. The tax rate in the Village has remained at the same level for 2012, 2013, and 2014-- the first time since 1997. With help from Carver Stone, the former NAPA building on Main Street has been torn down and will be replaced with storefronts. A new coat of paint graces Kelley's Bar and Grill and an office on the opposite side of the street is seeing a total rehab. It hasn't had a business in it since the 1980s and now hosts a realty office that has returned since the flood. Another four office spaces are being fixed up in a collaboration between owners, the Village, and SALT.
One of two pavilions opened in the last three years
Just this past several year there have large gains for the small community. In early December, Valley Tax Accounting opened its doors on Main Street, as did this little paper. A pet store, Fish Tales and Fur, opened on Main Street in June. All told, ten businesses have opened since the effort began. There are currently eight additional business projects aiming to open in Middleburgh over the coming months. First will be the Green Wolf Brewery on Main Street and the new Valley Pharmacy. Other projects include the Green Iguana Bistro, a bookstore, and others.

Middleburgh still faces challenges, including bringing a grocery into the community, but its ascent surely seems to be reaching an apex.
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