By Ken Sturtz
A lakefront hotspot near the SUNY Oswego campus that’s a longtime favorite of college students is getting a makeover.
The city of Oswego is wrapping up work on a $150,000 project to transform the area known as Sheldon Beach from a vacant gravel lot into a public park complete with restrooms, picnic tables and waterfront access.
The site is sandwiched on two acres and accessed from Sixth Avenue on the city’s west side. It’s bordered on the east by the 93-acre Oswego Harbor Power (formerly known as the Oswego Steam Station). The 1,700-megawatt oil- and gas-fired plant rarely produces electricity, mostly serving as a backup. The site is flanked on the west by the college campus.
Mayor Billy Barlow said an old building on the city-owned property had collapsed years ago and animals were getting into it. Last fall he went to check it out and see about having a contractor clean it up.
While looking around he began wondering why a popular piece of city-owned lakefront real estate wasn’t being maintained and utilized.
The site was a public swimming area for decades, staffed by lifeguards and popular with locals and students alike. From there people gain access to the harbor’s breakwater that leads to the lighthouse. Over the years scores of people have become trapped and needed to be rescued.
In 1971, the swimming area was closed when the city leased the land to the adjacent steam plant for parking during a major expansion. When the city tried to reopen the site in the 1980s, it was stymied by the college and a lengthy fight ensued.
An effort to open a swimming area in the early 1990s failed due to a state regulation requiring the slope of swimming areas to be relatively level. The bottom of Sheldon Beach is rocky, jagged and has sudden drop-offs. The county Health Department said the conditions were dangerous and would’ve made it difficult for lifeguards to spot someone in trouble.
Meeting the state regulations would’ve required an expensive project to fill in and level out the bottom of the lake and the city eventually dropped its plans.
Barlow pushed to turn the area into a park, similar to another project in 2019 that created Lakeside Park on the east side at a site that was previously a dead-end road leading to a gravel driveway on the lake. The city has also undertaken revitalization projects at Breitbeck Park and the International Pier.
“It just made sense,” Barlow said. “We have a lot of experience now with reinforcing the shorelines and developing waterfront space in a way that allows people to enjoy it.”
The Sheldon Beach park will not have a swimming area, but the project includes new public restrooms, seating and picnic areas, installation of green space and landscaping, and a walking trail to the waterfront. The street leading to the park will also be repaved.
The project is being paid for from a $1.7 million allotment the city got as part of the American Rescue Plan last year. Construction is expected to finish in mid-September.
Barlow said while that the park project is meant for everyone’s enjoyment, he believes it will have special resonance with college students given the site’s proximity to campus and historic popularity with students.
“It will go a long way toward making SUNY students feel like they have a quality place in the city to visit,” he said. “Now even more students will use it and feel like it’s there for them.”