More than 70 property owners from four Jamestown neighborhoods were invited to meet at the Dr. Lillian Vitanza Ney Renaissance Center on Tuesday evening to celebrate a year of reinvestment and rejuvenation.
Participants of the Renaissance Block Challenge convened to share neighborhood revitalization experiences. The projects completed include: landscaping, painting, sidewalk replacement, porch repair and more. The projects were completed in areas centered around Hallock Street, Hotchkiss Street, Lafayette Street and Superior Street.
According to Peter Lombardi, deputy director of the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation, the goal of the event was to give the participants an opportunity to meet with each other and share their stories about the improvement projects they undertook during the summer.
Area residents gathered at the Dr. Lillian Vitanza Ney Renaissance Center on Tuesday evening to celebrate the success of the Renaissance Block Challenge. From left to right are: Rhonda Swanson, leader of the Lafayette and Jefferson cluster; Dr. Lillian Vitanza Ney; Michael Restivo, leader of the Superior and Fairfield cluster; Mary Maxwell, neighborhood project associate; Gregory Lindquist, Jamestown Renaissance Corporation executive director; Randy Sweeney, executive director of the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation; Liz Nixon, leader of the Hotchkiss Street cluster; and Peter Lombardi, deputy director of the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation.
P-J photo by Dusten Rader
"Besides spurring home improvement projects, the goal is to create strong sustainable neighborhoods," Lombardi said. "So, next year, when there isn't grant money available to them, they'll still be in a position to meet regularly and feel the sense of confidence and camaraderie that drives reinvestment."
Rhonda Swanson, leader of the Lafayette and Jefferson neighborhood cluster, agreed, stating nothing bad could happen by taking part in the Block Challenge.
"It's been a lot of work, but most of it's been very enjoyable," Swanson said. "I got to know my neighbors, which was very positive. And, it seems as though even the people who didn't join started changing the appearance of their property for the better as well. There's still so much for us to do, but this was a huge step forward."
Gregory Lindquist, Jamestown Renaissance Corporation executive director, said the program's most important role goes beyond the improvements.
"Neighborhood identity-building and camaraderie is a key factor in revitalization," Lindquist said. "If residents feel connected to their neighbors and connected to the future of the city, they are much more willing to invest in a new roof or invest energy into organizing a block club."
Michael Restivo, leader of the Superior and Fairfield cluster, owns a home in the neighborhood, and decided to organize residents around a common cause of improving community relations.
"I recognized in the time that I lived there that there hadn't been a lot of close-knit gatherings," Restivo said. "So, I wanted to try to see what I could do to improve that, and we ended up having a bigger turnout than I thought. It definitely brought everybody closer together, especially with the activities we did like the block party that brought everybody in the community together for the first time. We hope that this brought people together enough that in other years we'll at least continue having the block party.
"I think it's great to bring the different groups together tonight for this event, and I hope to meet leaders of the other blocks - it was a great idea," Restivo continued.
Funding for the Renaissance Block Challenge matching grants was provided by the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, the Ralph C. Sheldon Foundation, the Lenna Foundation and Northwest Savings Bank, as well as support from the Chautauqua County Housing Assistance Fund and the Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce.
Local businesses also played a role in assisting participants with discounts and services, including: Brigiotta's Greenhouse and Garden Center, Everydays True Value, Chautauqua Brick, Mike's Nursery and Sandberg Kessler Architecture Firm.
According to a Jamestown Renaissance Corporation press release, because the groups who apply are required to have at least five participating property owners and they must show a commitment to coordination, the purpose of the program is two-fold.
"We support improvements to clusters of homes in order to boost curb appeal and cultivate a sense of confidence in that area," Mary Maxwell, neighborhood project associate, said. "But, we also want to see people working together to improve their neighborhoods and address problems proactively."
The Renaissance Block Challenge will continue for a fourth year in 2014. Applications and guidelines for interested neighborhoods will be available in late December. To organize a cluster, contact Maxwell at 664-2477, ext. 224. For more information, visit jamestownrenaissance.org.