St. Johnsville looks toward the future

St. Johnsville residents wait for the start of the Community Conversation concerning St. Johnsville's future Wednesday night. (The Leader-Herald/Greg Hitchcock)

ST. JOHNSVILLE — The high school auditorium was filled with residents, business owners and local officials frustrated by seeing their community turn into a seeming ghost town at a meeting with representatives of the local and regional chambers of commerce on Wednesday.

With businesses recently leaving downtown St. Johnsville, including a dental practice and a grocery store, vilalge community stakeholders had much to say at the meeting billed as “Community Conversations.”

Homeowner Jacque Devlin came prepared with questions, declaring the community’s natural beauty, history and recreation wasn’t fully being maximized.

“We have a nice, vibrant and small town. We haven’t taken care of it and it is crumbling,” Devlin said.

Many people present insisted that St. Johnsville was facing blight, that the word on the street was the village has a problem with dilapidated buildings and with unpainted homes.

Jacque Devlin speaks during the Community Conversation about St. Johnsville's future Wednesday night. (The Leader-Herald/Greg Hitchcock)

Everyone nearly agreed that Main Street’s downtown should be a major source of concern and a focus for improvement.

“Downtown is the life of the community and its success spreads throughout the community,” Mark Kilmer, president and chief executive officer for the Fulton Montgomery County Regional Chamber of Commerce, said.

Kilmer then listed off a number of assets that St. Johnsville could capitalize on including a barge canal for tourism, the only marina within 30 miles, an existing business park, access to the village from I 90, Revolutionary War and Industrial history including Fort Klock, farms for agritourism, and a quaint Main Street.

Kilmer said what the community needs is “commitment, cooperation, and enthusiasm.” He mentioned by pulling together to address problems, many avenues of opportunity would open up.

“The major factor is community spirit and organization,” Kilmer said. “That’s what won Amsterdam.”

Bernie Barnes speaks during the Community Conversation about St. Johnsville's future Wednesday night. (The Leader-Herald/Greg Hitchcock)

Kilmer referred to Amsterdam’s recent Downtown Revitalization Initiative award of $10 million to revitalize the city’s core.

Meeting moderator Kevin McClary, publisher of the Amsterdam Recorder, said it takes time to implement a DRI.

“It’s seemingly overwhelming. You have to do it in steps and break ideas down in segments. It takes time — years,” McClary said.

Town Supervisor Dominic Stagliano, after listening attentively to the crowd, came up with a solution — having a Master Plan for the community to present to the outside world.

“What do we do to bring young people to St. Johnsville? We have an aging population. We cannot compete without a master plan,” Stagliano said.

What would the master plan entail? What do people want for the benefit of St. Johnsville’s future? St. Johnsville Chamber of Commerce board member Juanita Handy answered with a Christmas list: Downtown restaurants, government offices, medical practices, and a community center for local teenagers.

“There is nothing for our teens to do. We can take our mill and put a bowling alley there,” she said.

“The village is trying,” St. Johnsville Mayor Bernie Barnes said about the village’s revitalization efforts.

He mentioned with the successful implementation of grant funds, the village was able to upgrade the wastewater treatment plant and baseball fields.

Pastor Martin Glinn said the community was a blessing to residents by being cut off by Interstate 90.

“It feels like you’re out of the hustle and bustle, but that you can get to it if you want to,” he said.

Glinn said he doesn’t expect a big box store like Walmart to move in, but he said he sees potential for downtown traffic if Main Street was developed.

Some were concerned of the safety and health of their community and suggested to tear down vacant dilapidated buildings. Others were more cautious about demolition.

“Don’t be too hasty in tearing down old buildings. You can revitalize old facades,” Village Trustee Charlie Straney said.

Kilmer then read from a letter from an undisclosed Dolgeville employee and St. Johnsville resident about what Dolgeville is doing to market their community to the outside: a Facebook page, local community committees, and a positive attitude.

“We must do better at promoting what we do have,” St. Johnsville Chamber President Dawn Lamphere said. “A few years ago, we swept downtown. This creates community pride.”

St. Johnsville resident Ali Richard seemed to charm those in attendance as they rose in applause after she explained what St. Johnsville meant to her.

“I had a traumatic brain injury from an accident,” she explained. “Someone helped me when I was about to pass out. People care about each other here and look after each other.”

The meeting broke up with a commitment to meet again on Jan. 31 at 6:30 p.m. with the intention of forming committees to address a master plan.

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