Patience, Persistence Paying Off For City

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was Jamestown. The city we see in 2013 contains layers of development from more than 200 years of activity – especially the period of rapid growth between 1890 and 1930.

A renaissance, too, is not something that happens all at once or comes about through a single project. Communities that look for transformation from a lone ribbon-cutting are almost always disappointed.

But patience and persistence are beginning to pay off. The steady accumulation of improvements in downtown Jamestown over the past several years seems to have moved us past an important threshold – one where confidence is high enough to sustain significant levels of private investment and innovation.

Consider the following.

Back in January, the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation put out a call for downtown property and business owners to get together with their neighbors to identify clusters of projects that would boost downtown – and to apply jointly for matching grants to support their work. The response was impressive, with more than $600,000 in work proposed. The three selected clusters, representing 13 individual properties, are now hard at work on projects that include painting, facade repair, upper-floor renovations, retail space improvements, signage repair and murals.

The projects now underway come on the heels of a few dozen similar projects since 2006, involving partnerships between private property owners, the JRC, the Gebbie Foundation and the city. What’s different about this year? As the benefits of downtown investment have become more apparent, property and business owners have become more confident and proactive – and more willing to make investments that didn’t make sense just a few years ago.

This confidence is visible elsewhere, in the ways that business owners are finding new means to promote their enterprises and promote downtown as a unique experience for locals and visitors.

Brazil, the craft beer and wine lounge that owner Jeff James recently added above his Labyrinth Press Company at 12 E. Fourth St., is carving out a niche in the regional beer scene – and doing so in a way that leverages the beauty of Thurston Terrace. That block of Victorian townhomes is ready for new investment today because of preservation efforts since the 1970s.

Just around the block, at the corner of East Third and Pine streets, Cibo has been testing new marketing approaches, from going late-night on Fridays to pulling a 68-hour marathon during the recent Lucille Ball Comedy Festival. Cibo, Jones 212 Bakery and the Shawbucks Press Room also participated in Cruisin’ and Thunder in the Streets on Friday, going beyond their normal hours to serve the crowds.

Events themselves reflect this growing confidence and ingenuity, as a wide range of event organizers use downtown as a medium for gathering the community and expressing the city’s creative vibe. The arts sector, in particular, is leading the way, through events such as the Third Thursday summer concerts at Winter Garden Plaza, the Local Music Showcase and Chalk Walk in September, and special exhibitions and performances throughout the year at Infinity Visual and Performing Arts, the Third on Third Gallery, the new Dykeman-Young Gallery, and various bars and restaurants that host live shows.

Downtown’s new and emerging events – along with the evolution of established events such as the Comedy Festival, Farmers Market, Street Jam and Christmas Parade – are bringing increasingly diverse crowds to downtown, including people, even locals, who are seeing for the first time what the city truly offers. And many of those events utilize a rich array of assets that have been carefully assembled and tended over time, from the Reg Lenna Civic Center (restored in 1989), the Jamestown Savings Bank Arena (2003), the train station, and scores of well-maintained older buildings and streetscapes.

All of this reveals a downtown where people are trying new things – new events and activities, new businesses, new marketing models, new uses for old buildings – because of momentum and energy that have been slowly building through the years, and through the collective and personal pursuits of thousands of Jamestowners.

As the momentum builds, every new investment sends a ripple of confidence – making every remaining challenge seem a bit more possible to overcome.

Renaissance Reflections is a biweekly feature with news from the front lines of Jamestown’s revitalization. Learn more about the Jamestown Renaissance Corp. at jamestownrenaissance.org.