The community enhancement group Avenue and Main met last week to discuss the goals of the organization and how those goals can affect the future of the city of Niles.
''We're not a beautification committee,'' said Linda Bennett, local businessperson and one of the founding members of the committee. ''We're a revitalization group.''
One of the things the group has accomplished, Bennett said, was an ordinance approved by city council in December addressing blight among commercial buildings in the city. Although there have been residential building codes in existence in the city, there was no commercial building code, Bennett said. After meeting with city officials, the group was successful in getting an ordinance before council that address that issue, she said.
Linda Bennett of the Avenue and Main revitalization committee holds up a T-shirt the group is selling not only as a fundraiser for the organization’s projects for the city of Niles, but as a way of encouraging residents to take pride in the community. The T-shirts are available in all sizes and sell for $12 each. Orders can be placed by visiting the website, www.nilescommunityenhancement.com or by calling Bennett’s office at 330-652-0405.
Once the ordinance passed and was signed into law, the group began to put in complaints for the purpose of enhancing commercial buildings and making property owners responsible, Bennett said. As a result, two commercial buildings in the city have been upgraded and one has been leased to a new business.
Bennett said the members of Avenue and Main are hoping to bring more business to the downtown area.
''Statistics show that the more people who gravitate to a commercial area, there is less crime,'' Bennett said.
In addition to the commercial building code, Bennett said the committee has been encouraging neighborhoods to come forward to start a Block Watch committee. Under the umbrella, Beyond Neighbors Blockwatch, two neighborhood block watch groups have formed including Southside Blockwatch, which meets at 6:30 p.m. the first Tuesday of each month at Evening Light Apostolic Church, 1156 Fifth St. and the newly formed Waddell Park Block Watch. Beyond Neighbors and the Southside Blockwatch groups are chaired by Blockwatch Captain Barry Steffey.
The blockwatch committees have a police officer liaison, Bennett said, and residents can notify and communicate through the group's Facebook page, The Avenue and Main, or contact the police when something needs reported, she said.
''We're not law enforcement, but we work with them and cooperate with them,'' Bennett said.
The reason the blockwatch committees are called Beyond Neighbors, Bennett said, is because they intend to do more than just notify the authorities if there is evidence of criminal behavior.
''The blockwatch is to enhance the community at the neighborhood level,'' Bennett said. ''We're hoping that community mindedness will then expand throughout the city.''
The Avenue and Main also plans to get youth involved, Bennett said. By getting the youth involved, it will help them develop pride in their hometown, she said.
The Avenue and Main also hopes to generate community enthusiasm with the slogan, ''I am Niles,'' Bennett said.
Each individual resident makes up Niles, she said.
''When we see a situation that needs addressed, we do our best to remedy the situation,'' Bennett said. ''Rather than complain about things, show your gifts and talents and make Niles a better place to call home.''
The T-shirt is an outward sign, Bennett said, and shows that the residents care about Niles. T-shirts are available in all sizes and cost $12. They can be ordered through the group's website www.www.nilescommunityenhancement.com/ or by calling Bennett's office at 330-652-0405. Donations and sponsorships also can be made to the organization.
''The people of Niles have always been known for their pride, and we're trying to build on that,'' Bennett said.
The Avenue and Main was created in October 2010 to help revitalize the downtown area. In addition to the block watch groups and the city's commercial building code, the group has held a meet and greet with residents and local officials, held Christmas decorating contests for businesses on Main Street and Robbins Avenue, held a "last dance" sock hop at the high school and planted and maintained pyramids on Robbins Avenue.
''It's happening, Bennett said. ''It's slowly happening.''