Synergy is a word not commonplace in casual, everyday speech.
It is, however, a much more sleek way to express the familiar phrase "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts," or the concept that multiple bodies or forces interact so that their combined effect is more powerful than their individual efforts.
The Jamestown Renaissance Corporation, or JRC, is an example of hometown synergy in action.
According to the mission statement found on its website, the JRC is the "coordinating body" which oversees the progression of city improvement projects, converting initiatives on paper into tangible results. The Corporation's board of directors is the purposeful gathering of the most outstanding minds - and financial resources - available to the city of Jamestown. Representing city government, Mayor Sam Teresi and Director of Development Steven Centi are members of this board and work shoulder-to-shoulder with the directors of various philanthropic and private organizations, including the Gebbie Foundation, Habittera, Chautauqua Opportunities and the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation.
Following the initial city's Planning Commission recommendation and after the City Council's approval of the 2006 Urban Design Plan, the JRC was organized and incorporated specifically to translate the broad proposal into organized phases of implementation.
The corporation's most recent annual report from July 2009 outlines a scorecard of completed, ongoing, and to-be-implemented stages of the overall plan. A particular ongoing project, one that is surely visible for the public to witness today, is the demolition of the Wintergarden Theater on Main Street. For this activity to commence, the JRC was, in this instance, responsible for purchasing the property from the previous owner. The corporation currently has a suggested plan for its redevelopment into open air space, including an expansion for the neighboring Wine Cellar establishment. These plans will have make their way back to the City Planning Commission for approval before the next phase of redevelopment begins.
Jason Stronz, Renaissance Corporation director, has a positive outlook concerning the continuation of projects as part of the Urban Design Plan. Stronz, who has seen the start of the Wintergarden property redevelopment this past March, is also undertaking the next round of Downtown Facade Program.
This project, begun in 2008, serves to ''improve the downtown's overall character" by reconditioning the front faces of existing buildings.
Stronz highlighted the JRC's success in harnessing the resources from the Gebbie Foundation each year for this project, and working with the city of Jamestown and local architects such as Habiterra. Referring to the work yet to be completed as part of the Urban Design Plan, Stronz simply affirmed, "We're not going to slow down."
But this year heralds an ambitious new direction for the JRC. Whereas the JRC was orignally established after 2006 to meet the needs of published plan, recently the Corporation collaborated with the City of Jamestown to hire a new consulting firm, for the purposes of a new proposal with a different focus for city improvement. The Neighborhood Revitalization Plan, released as a document to the public this past week, represents a comprehensive study taken by czb, LLC, a firm based in Alexandria, Va.
Even as work steadily continues in accordance with the 2006 Urban Design Plan, the new report presents new objectives for the Renaissance Corporation.
In a recent interview, Stronz clarified how the JRC will prepare to handle the responsibilities of two distinct plans. To be sure, the older plan stresses the importance of pedestrian access, ease of transportation and a renovated image for Jamestown's "downtown core."
The new report has a broader focus, and offers a sobering appraisal of population decline, poor standards of upkeep and depressed housing prices throughout the city's residential neighborhoods. Stronz confirmed that the new report is indeed "starker" than previous proposals or ideas that may have been discussed regarding improvements in the city.
The new document discourages the notion of a "downtown core" which it finds is currently too scattered and overstretched across the city grid, and instead argues in favor of an urban outlook which more closely resembles a unified village landscape. The final objective is to effectively raise property values through a system of private, philanthropic and public partnerships.
Stronz agrees with many of the points raised in the new report. Referring to the current state of civic improvement, he affirmed "what is happening downtown is good," yet objectives need to be considered across our residential areas. Stronz echoed a warning found in the new report, commenting that to neglect adjacent neighborhoods would be "doing a disservice to downtown."
Envisioning the future commitment of the JRC, he said he said it is certainly possible to have a "coupling" of both plans. While the long-term goals of the Urban Design Plan remain in place, Stronz believes that the JRC is at a point where it will be "transitioning out of projects" like facade improvement or those which require demolition, and it is certainly well suited to invest in neighborhoods beyond the downtown area.
The current Neighborhood Revitalization Report, however, remains a proposal in its infancy. The public is invited to attend the official "unveiling" of the plan, as Charles Buki, principal consultant for czb, LLC, will appear at the next City Council work session Monday at 6:30 p.m.
Stronz recalled that a previous transportation-focused proposal from 2008 was ultimately scrapped because it was not approved through a vote in the City Council. He is optimistic that the new report will be viewed favorably by the council as well as the public at the meeting. In the phase that would logically follow approval, Stronz believes that the JRC could serve as a sponsor of public forums, wherein people could gather at locations inside their neighborhoods - Jamestown's network of churches, schools and public venues - to advocate courses of action for the plan.
Like the positive synergy which is demonstrated among the individual members of the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation, the Neighborhood Revitalization proposal could work alongside the 2006 Urban Design Plan, and the two could act as a compelling force for civic improvement in the city of Jamestown.