Neighborhood cleanup event aims to improve NT's Oliver Street
By Jill Keppeler
North Tonawanda's Oliver Street has a wealth of history as a business district, a melting pot and a home to many of the city's notable organizations.
Now, a group of residents, business owners and others are banding together to try to make the street's future just as vibrant as its past ... one small step at a time.
The first Hands On Oliver Street cleanup event will take place from 9 a.m. to noon Sept. 12, sponsored by the City of NT, Lumber City Development Corp. and Project 308 Art Gallery.
Natalie Brown, owner of Project 308 Art Gallery at 308 Oliver St., said the Lumber City Development Corp. held a series of "Re-Imagine Oliver Street" community meetings this past spring.
"The Lumber City Development Corp., they're really making an effort to overall make the city better. Right now, they're focusing on Oliver Street specifically," she said. "A major concern was just cleaning it up, picking up the garbage and making it look a little better."
Laura Bernsohn, planning and development specialist for LCDC, said now that Webster Street has become more revitalized, it made sense to switch gears to focus on Oliver, which "has a lot of potential."
"The purpose was just to get some feedback, see what people would like, build a business wish list," she said. "... It's just to build community pride, get people involved and do what we can to make it a great place."
Participants will meet at Project 308 Art Gallery at 308 Oliver St., before heading out to pick up rubbish, do some weeding, wash down sidewalks and otherwise spruce up the section of the street between Schenck and Wheatfield streets. People should bring gloves; coffee and refreshments will be provided, as will cleaning supplies.
"It's just something that needs to happen. We haven't had an initiative like this in a long time on Oliver Street," said Brown, who is also planning the gallery's annual art festival Sept. 26 on the street. "I think it's something a lot of the business owners were interested in."
Donna Braun, the 2nd Ward alderman on North Tonawanda's Common Council, is also a sponsor of the event.
"One of the reasons I ran two years ago is to see if we could revitalize Oliver Street," she said. "It's not going to happen overnight, but this is one thing we can improve on. It's a great way to get the community engaged in what's happening."
Bernsohn said she reached out to local business owners to see if they wanted their windows cleaned or stoops swept during the event. LCDC has also provided some grants recently for façade work on Oliver Street businesses such as Witter's Sports Bar and Project 308 Gallery.
After the cleanup event, a discussion of future plans will take place, she said, and more meeting will probably be held in the future.
"We want to make some sort of logo design contest, building a brand," she said. "We just want people to promote the street, to be proud of where they live."
Braun said that many other concerns and thoughts about Oliver Street were aired during the original meetings, including the issue of absentee landlords, public safety worries and a strong desire for more businesses in the area. But this is a start, she said.
"This is just one little step," she said. "It takes a long time to go uphill. Oliver Street has gone downhill for a long time. But one little step's going to help."