Downtown revitalization takes a very long time, according to Hannah Blake of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor.
Turning a depressed row of empty storefronts into a bustling community hub and tourist magnet requires consistent investment and community work.
“It can take many years,” she said.
In an effort to expedite that long process for the 233 historical communities along the banks of the Erie Canal from Albany to Buffalo, Blake organized the “Downtown Investment Forum.”
It will be held in the GE Theatre at Proctors on June 19, and is essentially a workshop/inspirational seminar/networking opportunity for all the people trying to improve downtowns along the canalway.
Blake hopes to attract roughly 100 area “spark plugs” — the developers, nonprofit representatives and community leaders trying to restart the canalway’s economic engine.
A handful of speakers including Amy Cortese, author of “Locavesting,” are slated to present programs on a number of topics, but Blake was quick to point out the event won’t just be a series of lectures.
“When I was proposing this forum,” Blake said, “my bosses told me to make it bubbling with enthusiasm.”
Jim Salengo, executive director of the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp. will speak about the role organizations like his own can play in revitalization — such as keeping streets clean and full of attractive hanging flowerpots and marketing banners.
“It was incredible,” he said. “I went out for a friend’s birthday the other night and you wouldn’t believe the number of people out walking the streets. That’s Schenectady on a Monday night. It wasn’t like that when I started this job five years ago.”
According to Blake, that sort of vibrant nightlife is a cornerstone of all nice downtowns.
“You have to have a place for people to live, get coffee and something for them to do at night,” she said.
The first two requirements are pretty self-explanatory, but nightlife can be hard to generate.
Salengo said downtown Schenectady business worked with the Chamber of Commerce and his own organization to put on several successful Merchant Mash Up events.
It’s ideas like these that Blake hopes will be exchanged at her forum.
Every one of the 233 canalway communities, she said, is at a different economic place. Getting representatives from at least the area communities in one room to share accounts of success and failure could be pretty useful.
“Some places are having great success raising funds for downtown projects through social media,” she said. “Maybe some place else will pick that up.”
While Blake listed Schenectady as a prime example of a recovering downtown, Salengo said he’s still looking for new ideas.
“We could all stand to learn what’s working for other communities,” he said.
“When we work together, things get done a lot faster than we think.”
For more information or to register for the forum, visit www.eriecanalway.org.
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