Renaissance Block Challenge: A Decade of Home Improvement with Jamestown Renaissance Corporation

20 Barker Street before (left) and after (right): Allen Park/UPMC Barker Neighborhood Cluster 2019-2021 Renaissance Block Challenge.

Article Contributed by
Jamestown Renaissance Corporation

Real and Lasting Impact

The Jamestown Renaissance Center (JRC) supports neighborhood revitalization with The Renaissance Block Challenge (RBC), a signature program started in 2011 providing resources and small grants to groups of property owners so they can collaborate on beautifying their street together through exterior improvements.

Local homeowner Debbie Basile participated two separate years in the Renaissance Block Challenge. Along with the matching grant, Basile was able to take advantage of multiple discounts provided by local hardware stores and businesses on items like paint and lumber. She described the application process as straightforward and was happy with the experience.

Improvement to curb appeal can have a positive, cascading effect on a city street. One homeowner fixes a porch, installs new gutters, or plants flowers and bolsters another’s confidence to work on their own property.

“It encouraged us to engage with our neighbor on keeping up our property. It has definitely increased the value of my home which without the grant wouldn’t have been possible.” Basile had her front porch restored, driveway redone, and a new garage door installed. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for middle class working neighborhoods to take advantage of” she said.

Tom Franco of The Forest Heights Historical District has lived in his house for 47 years. He’s part of a neighborhood project group that utilizes the RBC program and has fixed his porch and concrete walkway. Franco says, “It’s one of the better things to happen to the older neighborhoods.” And “If you qualify, find a way to invest and take care of your property.” He said the RBC has inspired camaraderie and commitment among those in Forest Heights.

Who We Are

JRC was founded in 2006 as a public-private partnership to support urban design. What soon became clear was that healthy neighborhoods were an important piece of the puzzle and that stabilizing and maintaining property values would benefit the entire city.

The RBC program supports exterior “curb appeal” improvements to highlight Jamestown’s unique historical architecture with hopes that real and visible change will keep up property values for future generations. The Neighborhood Division of JRC is guided by czb LLC Healthy Neighborhood plans which were adopted by the City of Jamestown City Council in 2010 and incorporated into the City of Jamestown Comprehensive Plan.

From 2011-2018 the program was offered to all residents of Jamestown. By the end of that timeframe 45 neighborhoods had participated with nearly 450 property owners, including business owners and landlords, investing over $1.3 million in exterior repairs and improvements.

Projects funded in the program include painting, porch repair, soffit repair, sidewalk repair, mailboxes, exterior lighting, front-yard landscaping, front doors and windows, driveways, driveway aprons, and gutters.

2018 and Beyond

Starting in 2018 a more focused approach was adopted to fine tune the process; this included an extended time for accomplishing projects and the new strategy of targeted “clusters” of properties. At least six neighbors in one of the targeted areas were required to collaborate on a plan and apply on the JRC website.

Mary Maxwell, JRC’s Neighborhood Project Director, says, “This update reinforced the principles of success, being patient in the results, visible improvements, being assertive in making things happen and lastly, coordinating multiple neighbors.”

Those applying are encouraged to have a strong sense of communication between neighbors and highlight what skills they could contribute to making their exterior projects successful.

Maxwell emphasized that while the RBC financially assists homeowners with curb appeal, the real benefit is an increase in pride of ownership and most importantly an increase in communication among the neighbors.

For the most recent round of the program ending in 2023, The focus or “map” encompasses UPMC/Allen Park neighborhood of 259 properties. Over 50% of the properties have signed up with two years remaining in this target area.

Property owner Ronda Whitford used the grant to work on a rental property from 1900. After working on city code items, she said “Our next undertaking was restoration of the two-story front porch, steps, and landscaping- a big budget item that would not have been possible without the extra funds coming from the Block grant. There’s very little “red tape” and it’s so satisfying to see so many improvements around the neighborhood.”

Learn More

Funding is provided by the John Alfred and Oscar Johnson Memorial Trust, with support from the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, The Ralph C. Sheldon Foundation, and the Lenna Foundation.

Interested in applying? Applications will soon be available for the new target area, the Northside of Jamestown, with a project timeline from 2022-2025. Visit Jamestown Healthy Neighborhoods Facebook Page or contact Mary Maxwell at 716-708-6964.