MAYVILLE - Many Mayville residents enjoy where they live so much that they're willing to do their part to make it even better.
On Wednesday night, the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency invited Harry Sicherman, noted community and economic development consultant, to the Chautauqua Suites Hotel and Exposition Center to act as mediator to a Mayville-area community development forum. Sicherman, who has 35 years of experience with revitalization efforts, is best known for assisting in the redevelopment of lower Manhattan following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
"I was asked by the CCIDA to take a look at Mayville for the possibility of downtown revitalization ... which tells you that downtowns are the most important thing to a lot of people in Upstate New York and that many are in at least a partial state of decay," said Sicherman. "Downtown is the center of government and community, and it's where it starts for a lot of (cities and villages). As many of you know, the big-box department store has contributed to the destruction of the downtowns of (municipalities) all across the state and country. Throw in social networking, television, et cetera, and you've drained a lot of personality away from the downtown model.
Harry Sicherman, noted community and economic development consultant, is pictured at left speaking with a group of Mayville residents during a community development forum on Wednesday at the Chautauqua Suites Hotel and Exposition Center.
P-J photo by Remington Whitcomb
"When we sat down to talk about revitalization in Mayville, the first thing I said was, 'This doesn't happen in a vacuum,'" continued Sicherman. "I've helped to hand out (large) grants to communities to revitalize their downtowns, only to find out later that nothing has changed. If you want your downtown to become more robust, it needs to be a grassroots effort. The national trends - I can't lower gas prices and shut down the internet so people shop locally - but we can start from the bottom up. I can't tell you how much I dislike those $50,000 studies about the changes people want that only end up sitting on the shelf. In the end, those studies don't revitalize a community, the people who are sitting here tonight do. If there is no spirit of volunteerism here, then revitalization isn't going to happen. You can't pay someone to come in and fix everything."
As mediator, Sicherman emphasized that conversation should be led by residents, and that he was only there to keep the group on track. Though it took a small amount of encouragement to get the group going, those in attendance offered an outpouring of ideas on how to improve the downtown.
Several ideas became the topic of discussion, including school mergers, concerted efforts to shop locally and the county's perception of Mayville.
However, the topic which finally got the entire group engaging in discussion was how to better use the landscape Mayville already has to bring in more people, more specifically the institution.
The group focused on utilizing Mayville as a halfway point between the institution and the Lake Erie wine trails. Discussion moved into topics such as the impact a six-month season at the institution would have on Mayville and how utilizing snowmobile trails during the summer as equestrian trails would bring horse enthusiasts into Mayville. Everyone in the room agreed that Mayville's trails and its position between Chautauqua Lake and Lake Erie are some of its best assets.
Martin Bova, mayor of Mayville, generally agreed with the nature of the discussion.
"If you look at a lot of other communities in the county, you see a lot (of communities in) worse shape than we're in," said Bova. "Yes, we have some buildings downtown that are not being utilized, but they look nice from the streets and are available for use by entrepreneurs. We're probably never going to turn any community back to what it was in the 1960s, where if you wanted to buy a watch, you went to the local jewelry store. That's just not going to happen because the big-box stores have made those stores endangered species. If we're going to keep people coming in to Mayville, there is no doubt that we're a tourism-driven community. We rely on the institution and the lake, but there's got to be other things that will draw people in. We don't need to be a 12-month, crazy, can't-move-through-town village, but I think there's more that we can do to improve the community and bring more business to the shops that still operate here."
Those in attendance generally agreed with Bova that Mayville is already in good shape, but a few improvements in specific areas could help to make it a bonafide destination.
"That's the rule we always use: Build on your assets and mitigate your deficiencies," said Sicherman. "There's a lot Mayville is doing right, but it can do it better and it can do it more efficiently. There's a lot of fertile ground here, now it's just a matter of using it."