Last week, D.U.D.A. (Downtown Utica Development Association) Conducted it's annual meeting at Thornberry's Backstage Restaurant. Elected as President for 2012 was Regina Bonacci. Also voted in were Anthony Trevisani as V.P. , Barry Sinnot as Treasurer and, yours truly, as Recording Secretary.
Regina Bonacci, or "Madame President" as I like to refer to her, is the perfect choice to lead the agency into it's next phase. For those of you who do not know her, Regina and her architect-husband Dave, purchased the old Food Bank/T.R's After Hours on Bleecker St. several years ago. A wreck of a building, it had been slated for demolition and was basically stripped down to its bones. When I was appointed as UED Commissioner in 2008, I, along with Pam Jardieu, who was a grant writer for the city at the time, were committed to saving the entire block.
Enter Dave and Regina. Dave was looking for new headquarters for his firm, Bonacci Associates, and Regina had always wanted a downtown loft space to call home. It was a perfect fit. They purchased the building from the Urban Renewal Agency and, after substantial investment and lots of hard work, today the building is an example of the kind of mixed use project that we have hoped could happen downtown.
So, what makes Regina the ideal President for DUDA is simply this-she believes in Utica and downtown. There was never a moment when she or Dave doubted their decision. They did not listen to the negative naysayers that say downtown is dirty, unsafe, not a place to invest. They believed in their heart that this was the right move. Along with the others who also saved the block, that decision has proven to be the right one.
The same spirit that propelled Dave and Regina to invest in downtown and make it their home is what we need to harness to turn all of downtown around. And by turn it around, this is what I mean:
We need to stop depending on local government and elected officials to make the changes. We have to rely on ourselves. The downturn of downtown was exacerbated by bad politics and self-serving officials throughout the entire region. The end result-suburban sprawl with no population growth, infrastructure we cannot afford to maintain, and a highway/strip mall culture that will never contribute to the attraction of new business and residents to our region.
And while the people we picked to represent us were delighted in the tax revenue they collected from the sprawl, the city started to feed on itself. Abandoned buildings began being demolished at record speed, sometimes out of need, most times out of greed. Infrastructure crumbling around us, with the exodous of business and people happening so quickly that at times it seemed that there was no one left at all.
The saying, " Will the last one to leave Utica turn out the lights" was beginning to feel like a prophecy and not just the hater's mantra. But, as the pendulum swings, so has the fate of downtown. Slowly, almost imperceptibly at first, things began to happen. Now, there seems to be life again. Halting, tentative steps are being made. It is now up to us to nurture this new growth.
Enter DUDA. No city can be successful without a determined, activist-oriented, promotional organization making sure that what is best for the community is being done. We who live, work, invest in and love downtown, and our city, are the ones that have to make sure that we are in control of our future and in the future of downtown.
DUDA will no doubtedly be at the forefront of that initiative. The new board of directors is made up of new faces and a few old ones. People like Barry Sinnot, the Bank of Utica executive, an always up-beat city promotor, Chris Talgo, a dynamic young restaurateur,who is set to open The Tailor & The Cook, his second location, on Baggs' Sq. West.
There is Emmett Martin, who has leased the front office at the Bonacci Building for his Lefkowitz/M artinInsurance Agency, Jason Nole, who has run the hip bistro "Ancora" for several years, and Brett Truet, an entrepreneur and inventor who owns several signature buildings downtown and who has a passion for Utica and a vision for it's future.
Venerable citizens like Lynn Mishalanie of Utica Monday Nite fame, and antiques empresario Jerry Dischavio of Oneida Sq. and Pam Jardieu, the brilliant grantwriter and all around brain, are some long time downtown contributors who will help round out the board and bring their guidance and experience to the table.
There are so many more contributors, new board and committee members, all excited downtowners who want to get involved with the turnaround. DUDA will become the mechanism that helps us accomplish what has seemed to elude us for so long.
Downtown Utica-a place we can be proud of again!