Gloversville Downtown Development Specialist James Hannahs is hoping the Fulton County Center for Regional Growth’s Hometown Heroes banner program will help revitalize community pride in Gloversville, and help raise money for downtown improvement projects.
Gloversville’s Hometown Heroes banner program is similar to programs in Schenectady, Amsterdam and the banner program inside Crossgates Mall run by the Guilderland Chamber of Commerce — all of which feature portraits of military veterans decoratively displayed for a fee.
For $250, the Fulton County Center for Regional Growth will take photos or painted portraits of military veterans and print them onto a weather-resistant vinyl banner and then hang the banner from one of the 79 city-owned Victorian-style lampposts, which are placed along Main and Fulton streets.
Registration for the Hometown Heroes program launches online Monday at downtowngloversville.org/hometownheroes. People can also send in a printed registration form to 34 W. Fulton St.
“The epicenter, and the area of most-critical mass, is really the Four Corners, Main Street and Fulton Street. What I’d like to do is start there and then branch out,” Hannahs said of how he wants to place the banners.
Hannahs, a Johnstown native and graduate of Siena College, took over for former FCCRG Downtown Development Specialist Jennifer Jennings in January 2020 at the end of her three-year contract to help spur a redevelopment strategy for Gloversville, based on the “place-making” urban planning philosophy.
Jennings’ tenure included organizing events such as “100 in1 Day” as well as a two-day “Placemaking 101” conference in 2018 and the popular “Bacon Jam” summer pork-themed food and music festival.
Although Jennings’ various experiments in “Placemaking” often attracted regional attention to downtown Gloversville, with its picturesque bygone Americana streetscapes and vintage 19th century architecture, her efforts were also often frustrated by what she called the “nostalgic despair” of some city residents who spent their time “looking to the past instead of the future.” Jennings described nostalgic despair as the largest challenge she faced working in Gloversville.
Hannahs, who had previously worked as the director of membership and member services for the Fulton-Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce, said his “first agenda item” when taking over for Jennings was talking to residents and businesses to gauge their thoughts about downtown and what it needs. He said those discussions led him to find a way to honor the past in a way that would galvanize the public.
“The overwhelming product of those narratives was the idea that there’s a lot more pride here, community pride and it’s intangible,” he said. “The other overwhelming theme of those narratives is that it’s hard to visualize that pride sometimes when it’s not tangible.”
He said community members also want funding for a downtown facade improvement program, streetscape improvements, public space improvements, lighting improvements and parking lot improvements, all of which cost money.
Hannahs said he’s hoping the Hometown Heroes banner program will make community pride tangible, and help raise money for those other programs.
“These programs that we’re trying to build for downtown, to revitalize and help rebuild it, have to get monetized one way or another,” Hannahs said. “So, this Hometown Heroes program is going to help kick start or catalyze other programs that are going to help pay for other items on that wish list.”
Hannahs said the $250 fee for the banner includes the $69.95 cost to make the banner, $24 for the bracket that it uses to connect to the lamppost, the Leader-Herald newspaper and its printing business gets $25 for creating the banners and $5 of the purchase cost goes to Veteran & Community Housing Coalition, which helps homeless veterans.
Hannahs said the remaining funding will go towards the cost of repairing or replacing any of the banners during the first year they are displayed, which runs from Memorial Day to Memorial Day, and the rest leftover after that will be put into an account hoping to save up funds for the FCCRG to establish downtown improvement programs.
The costs and rules of similar banner programs vary from city to city.
In the city of Amsterdam, Rob Spagnola, director of the city’s Tourism, Marketing and Recreation Department, said the Hometown Heroes program charges $160 for the banner.
Spagnola said 79 Hometown Heroes banners have been hung since the program started in 2019. He said the program was suspended for a while in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, but is now operating again with about 25 new banners scheduled to be hung soon. He said the banners are designed by a company in Syracuse called Caz-Gear.
“The city doesn’t keep a red cent of the money. We’re just the go-between the production company and the person ordering the banner,” Spagnola said.
Amsterdam in 2018 was awarded the competitive $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant for the Mohawk Valley Region, which included as part of 15 funded economic development projects a $600,000 Downtown Improvement Fund.
Gloversville has submitted downtown revitalization initiative grant plans for each of the four years New York State has conducted the $10 million DRI contests, but has been unsuccessful so far.
Hannahs said Gloversville would have applied again in 2020, but the contest was suspended, likely due to the financial strain from the coronavirus pandemic. He said Gloversville will apply for the contest again if it is restarted for 2021, but in the meantime the FCCRG must find ways to raise funds for downtown programs because it lacks the state funding granted in Amsterdam.
“The idea of having a downtown improvement fund is a concept that a lot of thriving downtowns are subscribing to, Amsterdam, especially regionally, is leading the charge,” Hannahs said.
Spagnola described some of the other aspects of Amsterdam’s Hometown Heroes program. He said in Amsterdam the banners are placed in whatever neighborhood the person ordering them wants them to go.
“The Southside Bridge Street area was requested a lot. In front of the post office, so the high-traffic areas, or the neighborhoods where the people grew up or live currently maybe. It varies by the person,” he said. “They go on telephone polls, the decorative polls, whatever looks the nicest, and whatever we have access to.”
Amsterdam also posts online narratives about many of the Hometown Heroes at amsterdamny.gov/our-city/amsterdam-heroes.
Spagnola said in Amsterdam the Hometown Heroes banners stay up indefinitely, with no organized program as of yet for their replacement if they become damaged. He said the banners are expected to be able to last about three years.
“Obviously, there’s no way of knowing, but they say three years is a good benchmark to work off of for how long they should last,” he said. “It’s roughly about $100 to get a replacement, so at that time we would go to the person who did it and ask if they want to purchase a replacement. We’re hoping to put together some sponsorship money to let sit in an account, so that if a banner does break, or we need to replace some, or one, or a few, over time, or in case somebody can’t afford one, we’d like to have money set aside, so we can pull it out of there to make sure their banner stays up.”
Hannahs said in Gloversville if a banner becomes damaged during the first year of it being displayed the FCCRG will replace it without any additional charge, but if people want the banner to stay up longer than one year they can pay a $160 maintenance fee, $10 of which will be donated to the Veteran & Community Housing Coalition. He said the maintenance fee will also keep the banner in the same location, so patron’s are paying to maintain the lamppost ‘real estate” of where the banner has been placed.
“If they don’t want to pay the maintenance fee the banner comes down and they keep it. They own the banner itself,” Hannahs said.
Gloversville’s banner design was created by Janene Bouck of Silent Jane Photography and includes what Hannahs described as a “subtle diluted red, white and blue color scheme”, which provides an homage to the American flag without being “too vibrant” in color, which was something he wanted to avoid in part to gain the approval of Gloversville’s Historic Preservation Review Board in order to place them downtown. He said both the Historic Preservation Review Board and the city Common Council have approved the banner program.
“It sort of balances this idea of being subtle and functional, while paying respect to the hero that is on the banner as well,” he said.
Other elements of the design include a black border around the edges, a white lettering, the image of a brass-colored name plate with bolts printed onto the banner and images of the service member’s military medals printed under the person’s portrait.
Hannahs said he is committed to verifying the accuracy of any medals earned by the Hometown Heroes displayed on banners. He said the service member’s DD Form 214, issued at discharge from the military, will have information needed for verification.
“We want to make sure we’re not committing stolen valor, that’s the last thing we would ever want, so we’re asking the DD Form 214 is submitted or a copy is submitted,” he said. “We also know the DD Form 214 can contain some pretty personal information, and after a proper review it will be destroyed. It’s nothing we’re going to keep on file. We want to maintain the integrity of everyone’s privacy.”
Hannahs said each of Gloversville’s Victorian lampposts has the capacity to hang two banners, for a maximum of 158 possible slots for the program. He said banner patrols, which could include businesses and nonprofits, can select to hang the banners on any available lamppost, but if there is no specific location request it’s his plan to start in the center of the Four Corners area and fill them up one at a time.
“And then come around and do it again, if we need to do a second round,” he said.
More information can be obtained about Gloversville’s Hometown Heroes program at 518-725-7700.