The Erie Downtown Partnership has been awarded the Main Street Resiliency Grant from the National Main Street Center for their Designing for Distance + Dignity pilot project.
Only nine projects were selected from across the country, and the Erie Downtown Partnership’s submission ranked the highest of all submissions.
Emily Fetcko, Assistant Director and Main Street Manager with the Erie Downtown Partnership explains, “While the $8,500 grant will help us advance this project, it’s the national spotlight on the project and on our community that has the most value to us.”
As the lead placemaking organization in downtown, the organization has been much more intentional on creating meaningful and impactful experiences that support a better quality of life for the almost 20,000 residents and employees who are downtown.
The organization’s mission of creating a safe, fun, and welcoming downtown has been tested during the COVID-19 pandemic and the Designing for Distance + Dignity pilot project is a direct response to those challenges.
The Erie Downtown Partnership has maintained its cleaning duties of downtown, which have been significantly impacted by the pandemic. Less customer massing downtown has shown the increased need for helping those un-homed and vulnerable individuals who dwell within downtown.
The challenges for many of these individuals is lack of access to restrooms while not in a shelter.
Fetcko explains, “As you can imagine this creates a real challenge in attracting people downtown to support our small business community, who are already impeded by COVID-19 restrictions, but it also creates a public health and safety concern.”
After months of seeing no solution in sight, the Erie Downtown Partnership decided to create one. They were awarded a planning grant through the State Historic Preservation Office to receive urban planning services to reimagine an underutilized or at-risk space within the Downtown Improvement District to assist with placemaking during COVID-19 restrictions.
They were paired with urban planning firm Smith Group to look at possible locations, assess risk and impact, and design a tactical urbanism concept that would satisfy different stakeholders. “We had many conversations with downtown businesses who said it’s important to look at the impact that un-homed and vulnerable individuals have on economic recovery. Those small businesses were clear that this needs to be a priority if downtown is to become the world-class downtown we all envision.”
With that vision in mind the Erie Downtown Partnership asked Smith Group to look at this creative placemaking opportunity as a tool for solutions centered on dignity.
The Erie Downtown Partnership convened a taskforce representing a group of stakeholders from the neighborhood, from small businesses to property owners and social service partners, to provide input on the location, form, and function of the space.
Julie Fitzpatrick, Executive Director with the Pennsylvania Downtown Center who manages the Main Street program for the Commonwealth, says, “I am incredibly proud of the Erie Downtown Partnership, not just for being one of nine recipients from across the nation, but for the courage and insight to focus their efforts on a project such as this with the potential to impact lives in such a transformative way.”
As the pandemic has worn on the stresses on both downtown’s social and economic infrastructure have been amplified and creating a tactical intervention to address both is what made the project stand out to both State-wide and national peers.
“Socially aware placemaking strengthens the connection between all people and the places we share with one another. This project positions Erie as a national leader who is showing by example the lessons that we can learn from one another, when we’re willing to pay attention to those around us, and work to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive economic climate and culture. Main Street is a place for all, and so is Erie,” Fitzpatrick says.
Main Street America’s President and CEO Patrice Frey adds, “These grant recipients demonstrate the creativity and entrepreneurial thinking that have historically driven successful revitalization on Main Street and will be key to navigating recovery.
I’m inspired by the innovative projects these communities have proposed, and I know they will serve as models and sources of inspiration for Main Street programs across the country as they enter the next phase of reopening.”
The Main Street Resiliency Grant is made possible through the generosity of Joe and Marge Grills of Rapidan, Virginia. The Grills have been long-time leaders in supporting Main Street at both the national and local level, including funding $80,000 worth of grants to Main Street communities in the spring of 2020. Joe Grills has served as a founding member of the National Main Street Center Board since 2013, and they are dedicated supporters of Main Street America programs in Orange and Culpeper, Virginia.
In an email to the Erie Downtown Partnership, the Grills family expressed that “This fund has become all the more timely as Main Street leaders continue to navigate the myriad impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we applaud you for your ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit in meeting these challenging times. Your Designing for Distance + Dignity Pilot Project will undoubtedly serve Erie well in the coming weeks and months and will serve as a powerful, replicable model for communities across the country.”
The Erie Downtown Partnership will be convening, and inviting more, stakeholders from the Renaissance District to provide further feedback on an initial concept. Funding opportunities also continue to be explored. Earlier this year the project also received a $2,500 Ingnite Grant from Erie Arts and Culture.
Fetcko says, “It’s important for people to understand that this project is still being developed and built out. We need to involve more people in the conversation and plan together to have the best outcomes, and ultimately make the most positive impact.”
Once the concept and location is finalized the Erie Downtown Partnership will build out an operations and management plan for the site to ensure it is well maintained working collaboratively with other stakeholders such as the City Mission.
The Erie Downtown Partnership hopes to bring the project to fruition by late Summer. “The sooner we can test these tactical interventions, the sooner we can adjust and scale to needs. The tools to create the space are movable parts. That’s the importance of beginning with a demonstration or pilot project, you can adapt as needed and if successful, replicate the model in other parts of your community and beyond.”
The Erie Downtown Partnership is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the downtown experience through marketing, advocacy, and placemaking.
CONTACT: Emily Fetcko, EDP Main Street Manager at (814) 671-8598