Launched through Marietta Main Street in June of 2018, Main Street West has been named the 2019 “Best Main Street Committee Project or Event” by Heritage Ohio and will be recognized at the 2019 Heritage Ohio Annual Preservation and Revitalization Conference in Newark, Ohio on October 22nd. This award is presented to a Main Street program or initiative in Ohio that displays excellence, fulfills an unmet need in the community, and positively impacts the community through utilizing the Main Street approach.
Led by Jackson Patterson and Fourth Ward City Councilman Geoff Schenkel, both members of the Marietta Main Street Board of Directors, Main Street West has been making waves on Marietta’s west side through grassroots revitalization and volunteer-led initiatives. Main Street West’s formation was spurred by the recognition that true community development is not top-down; rather, it is through the efforts of engaged citizens driving positive change through a common vision.
Main Street West takes that concept even further and focuses our revitalization strategies on one specific neighborhood.
“While Marietta Main Street takes our four-point approach and applies it to a specific area of our City – downtown – Main Street West takes that concept even further and focuses our revitalization strategies on one specific neighborhood, capturing with it an underlying effort to be the change Harmar wants to see,” said Marietta Main Street Interim Executive Director, Cristie Thomas.
While many of Marietta Main Street’s programs like Clean Sweep impact both sides of the Muskingum River, the group recognized that the Harmar Community has its own unique needs. Whereas beautification is a top concern for business owners on Front Street, pedestrian safety is a more present concern across the river and needs extend beyond the commercial district into the residential neighborhood. To kick things off, Main Street West hosted a free Community Dinner and Meeting last July to encourage discussion and ask residents for input on what they wanted to see happen in their community. More than 115 local residents attended and participated in a conversation about the strengths, challenges, and needs of the Harmar Community, which helped to inform which projects Main Street West took on first.
In the year since launching, Main Street West has accomplished volumes of good. From building partnerships with the local municipal departments to planning multiple clean up days and upgrading playground equipment, the group has embodied the Main Street mission to create real change in the Harmar neighborhood. Other accomplishments include mulching flower beds, coordinating with the Washington County Public Library to add a Harmar stop to the Bookmobile’s summer schedule, receiving grant funds to repair vital roadway infrastructure, hosting widely-attended community meetings, restoring brick pathways, expanding the downtown flower program, and piloting a neighborhood mentorship program.
Schenkel said he recognized within the Harmar community a frustration with previous neighborhood efforts. “Residents felt used. They described an ongoing relationship of being told what to do, carrying out chores and not seeing much value in doing what they were being asked to do. I didn’t want Main Street West to be like that. I knew if it was going to work, we had to operate in a way that people recognized themselves in the decisions we were making.”
Stuff like this doesn’t happen by accident – we have to make smart choices that are informed by understanding what challenges we face as a neighborhood.
With Main Street West, Schenkel said it was important to start with a key word or concept that was both familiar to residents and very literal – like “Lake Franklin,” the neighborhood nickname for the water that collected at the intersection of Franklin and Maple after a good rain, or the “Street Sign Baby Gate,” the unpopular sign that had been installed on the playground at Flanders Field. “Then, connect the thing to an action – and specifically, an action we can impact, something visible, doable, and hands-on. That makes it real. Then, we work to connect the thing to a larger idea or method.”
For ‘Lake Franklin,’ Schenkel said they attached it to CDBG funding, to citizenship, to democratic participation, and to the struggle within the political process of a competition of ideas fighting over resources.
“Leading is often about teaching – about learning how to interact with others,” he said. “Our neighbors have to learn what motivates officials, and we, Main Street West, have to teach about ourselves in a way others can hear us and not dismiss us. Empathy plays a huge role. Stuff like this doesn’t happen by accident – we have to make smart choices that are informed by understanding what challenges we face as a neighborhood.”
Much of Main Street West’s success can be attributed to the hard work of Schenkel and Patterson, who have gone door to door inviting residents to meetings, shown up time and time again for clean-up days and events, and taken extra steps to make sure their neighbors are informed and equipped with knowledge to take positive action towards change.
With a full heart, some elbow grease, and the support of donors, history is being rewritten with each new project accomplished through this initiative.
“I believe Main Street West has put a damper on the stigma surrounding the west side,” said Patterson. “In my opinion, Geoff has been the biggest impact the west side has seen in many years, not only giving the community a voice but standing with his community. His leadership and his ability to help us move towards a better neighborhood together is really hard to put into words because it’s his actions that speak the loudest.”
While there is still work to be done, the momentum generated by Main Street West serves as a model for neighborhood revitalization and the power of public/private partnerships. “With a full heart, some elbow grease, and the support of donors, history is being rewritten with each new project accomplished through this initiative,” said Thomas. “Relationships are being repaired, residents are gaining faith that they are seen and valued by local leaders, and kids are actively contributing to positive changes for their neighborhood.”
Main Street West would not be able to write these success stories, Thomas said, without hard work, daily commitments, and strategic relationships that are maintained between City Council, City Administration, area residents, and community leaders.
“Jackson and Geoff, both great colleagues and friends, have worked diligently with tremendous force to not only ensure that Main Street West keeps rolling, but to equip themselves with needed information, skills, and resources to be the best versions of leaders they can be,” said Thomas. “They don’t take lightly their responsibilities in spearheading Main Street West. Next year will be another year of great achievement for this effort, and I look forward to seeing how their impact will grow.”
Patterson said he’s looking forward to Main Street West building more relationships in 2020 and inviting more of the community to the table. Main Street West will be hosting their next Community Dinner and Meeting on Sunday, October 20th at the Knights of Columbus Hall, where they will share an update on progress made over the past year with Harmar residents and together, plan for the future of Marietta’s west side.