For The Holidays, Nostalgia And A Look Ahead

More than 5,000 people will pack downtown on Dec. 6 for Jamestown’s annual Christmas Parade and Holiday Celebration. And there’s still time to register your organization or business for a spot in the parade, or to signup for the Snowball Drop.

Visit www.jamestownrenaissance.org to download and complete the parade registration form before Monday, Nov. 25, or call Tiffani Conti at 664-2477, ext. 226, for more information. This year’s lead sponsors are The Resource Center and Lutheran Jamestown.

The theme of the parade, “Jamestown’s Snowball Express,” celebrates railroading in Jamestown and evokes the imagery of an era when families were reunited during the holidays by steel and steam. For decades, travelers would arrive before Christmas at the Erie Railroad’s station, dust the soot from their coats, and find themselves in the midst of a vibrant downtown shopping district.

That era came to a close more than 40 years ago, when passenger railroad service to Jamestown ended (1969) and the Chautauqua Mall opened (1971), two events that diminished downtown’s role as a transportation and commercial hub.

For many reasons, that era will never return. After trying for years to compete head-on with shopping malls and big box stores, most downtowns and their businesses have changed tactics. That’s true in Jamestown, too, where downtown enterprises that succeed generally do so because they offer products or services that are unique in the Jamestown market, and are provided in a way that emphasizes a high-quality customer experience.

Just as department stores and general retail are unlikely to return to downtown Jamestown, so, too, is passenger railroad service. A Southern Tier Amtrak route isn’t currently feasible because of expensive capital upgrades that would have to be made to existing rail lines and the need for large operating subsidies. Amtrak’s Empire Service from Niagara Falls to New York City, for example, requires millions of dollars each year in state support to overcome a sizable gap between revenue and costs, despite being one of Amtrak’s most travelled routes.

Regular excursion trains through Jamestown also seem to be a long-shot at this time. As with Amtrak service, they would require major capital upgrades and subsidies-and with very little promise that the economic impact would come close to justifying an investment of millions in state and federal transportation dollars that are needed for more pressing and practical purposes.

Instead, the newly renovated train station is likely to evolve much as downtown commerce has evolved: leveraging its historical value for new purposes rather than recreating its historical function. It will serve as a hub for intercity and local buses for many years to come, as a facility for rent-paying tenants that desire unique space, and as a staging ground for activities that celebrate the building’s and the railroad’s history. In that spirit, the Gateway Station is contributing to this year’s Christmas Parade by arranging for the use of a steam engine and caboose in the parade lineup.

While the parade will harken back to a different time in Jamestown’s history, those attending will have an opportunity to enjoy what downtown Jamestown is today: a rebounding area with active arts venues, an expanding number of good restaurants and shops, a growing and diverse residential population, and many buildings that are having their historical value leveraged for new and innovative purposes.

Nostalgia is fun. But so is imagining what downtown Jamestown will be in another five years.

Renaissance Reflections is a biweekly feature with news from the front lines of Jamestown’s revitalization.