CATSKILL — Village officials are looking to rebrand the village and attract more businesses — potentially leaving behind the historic face of Rip Van Winkle.
Rip Van Winkle — the iconic character in Washington Irving’s 1819 short story of the same name — has represented the village for centuries. In the folklore legend, Rip falls asleep for 20 years in the Catskill Mountains and missed the American Revolution.
Rip welcomes visitors to the village of Catskill on a sign just after the Rip Van Winkle Bridge. Village officials are looking to hire a marketing agency this year and keeping Rip alive is one of several decisions to be made, Village President Vincent Seeley said.
“Everything is on the table,” he said. “We have to decide whether to transform our current image or completely start over.”
Seeley is in favor of taking a new direction, he said.
“Maybe it’s time to retire the look and feel of [Rip],” Seeley said.
The decision will be made by the full village board and after review by the public, Seeley added.
Village trustee Joseph Kozloski does not think the public would support Rip’s retirement, he said.
“I don’t know that it’s a good idea,” he said. “People are not reticent to change.”
Catskill residents are fond of a wooden Rip carving at the top of Main Street, Kozloski said.
“People always asking in the spring when he’s going to be out,” Kozloski said. “I don’t think they’re ready to give up on that.”
The plan, inspired by the village local development corporation’s Come to Catskill campaign — a promotion of Main Street’s economic development — is in its early stages, Seeley said, adding his vision is to expand the rebranding to the village and beyond.
“We want new images, fonts and themes to present ourselves,” he said. “We will be improving our web presence, our social media, our communication and our advertising. We need solid marketing, branding and communication to better move forward.”
“There is the potential to expand this into the town,” Seeley added. “We need to build a bridge between economic development in the town and economic development in the village. We have to work together.
The improvements will do more than just attract new businesses, the village president said.
“We will build community pride,” Seeley said. “We’re building tools for residents and taxpayers and attracting new business and new people to the community.”
Seeley hopes Catskill will serve as more than a weekend destination, but a place for people to live, work and play, he said.
Kozloski agrees the village needs some revitalization.
“We need to bring more businesses into the area to build up the tax base,” he said. “We have a 105 or 106 nontaxable parcels — other residents have to pick up the tab.”
The village’s local development corporation offers incentives to new businesses, Kozloski said.
“We can offer small loans at low interest,” he said. “We have lowered their rent for the first three months.”
The first few months for a business are critical, Kozloski said.
“They have to make enough capital to keep running while also getting established and building their clientele,” he added.
Village officials do not dictate which businesses can come to the area, Kozloski said.
“Anyone can open a business here,” he continued. “We’ll help them out, but whether or not they survive is up to them.”
The board will review proposals from marketing companies and look at next year’s budget.
“We will have some form of this in 2019,” Seeley asserted. “At whatever level we can afford.”
The board would prioritize what items to fund first, he added.