When Matt Horn took the job of city manager in Geneva six years ago, he sat down with the mayor and a fairly new city council “with a shared vision of Geneva as a working city with a lot going for us—between the lake, the wineries, the Colleges, the proximity to Rochester, Ithaca and Syracuse, Geneva’s proud industrial heritage of the 1940s and ’50s—and now,” Horn says, “we have an opportunity to step with confidence into the next generation using the resources we have.”
To capitalize on the talent of Geneva entrepreneurs, community activists and engaged citizens, the City developed the web-based Civic Innovation Hub in 2012. Modeled on a similar program developed in Boston, Mass., the Civic Innovation Hub solicits proposals at ideasgeneva.com, and if they are logistically and financially feasible and align with the strategic goals of the city, the City puts them into effect.
“Government tradition is to do things to people when trying to do things for people,” Horn says. “Instead, we’re asking citizens and business what they need from us.”
While the City isn’t able to support every idea—proposals for food trucks and urban poultry farming have been archived for now— some have taken off. The Geneva Events Factory, proposed by former HWS Leader-in-Residence and Musselman Triathlon founder Jeff Henderson, was envisioned as a way to streamline the process of hosting public events in Geneva.
“It dawned on me that all events, or at least the ones I was familiar with, had a core set of common needs, like permits, equipment and volunteers,” says Henderson, who has organized races and events across the country. “The city has been warming to the economic and community-building benefits of public events, so the confluence of circumstances seemed to suggest advantages: identifying commonalities and removing redundancies would further the common good. Everyone could benefit: the city would play host to more events and event directors would have more help putting them on.”
Chelsea Campbell manages the Events Factory, coordinating with event planners, volunteers, City departments and the eventgoers themselves to ensure that “the logistics of their dream events go off without a hitch, while trying to create more opportunities for residents and visitors,” Campbell says. Campbell’s position at the Events Factory was developed as part of the Geneva Serves Fellowship, through which graduating college seniors are hired onto the City’s management team for a one-year assignment.
Blake Basye '13
Blake Basye ’13, the other Geneva Serves Fellow, works as an organizational development analyst for the City, responsible for the analysis of departmental operations for each city department, including development of process mapping, assisting department heads with data analysis and process engineering, and making recommendations on sustainability of existing practices.
Through Geneva Serves, fellows earn a stipend from the City while Hobart and William Smith provide housing—“another great partnership between the City and the Colleges,” Horn says. “From the City’s perspective, it’s our opportunity to experiment with positions that we’re considering funding. Selecting a graduating senior gives us access to elevated talent and work product when compared to a traditional internship.”
Geneva Serves has been so successful that the City has decided to fund a full-time position next year.
With these new partnerships between the Colleges and the City, incentives from the Local Development Corporation and citysponsored programs like the 2013 Race for Space, which attracted proposals for new downtown businesses, the City is working strategically to encourage economic development, talent capitalization, asset promotion and pride of place.
Under the tagline “Uniquely Urban,” Geneva is striving, Horn says, for “economic sustainability, inclusiveness and openness to new ideas.”
Pat Collins P'09
This winter, in the empty downhill space that occupies 305 Main Street, snowboarders sailed off ramps, twisting into grabs and sliding rails at the urban snowboarding competition known as the North Seneca Rail Jam. In the spring and summer, the City will welcome thousands of athletes for the Musselman Triathlon and the Seneca7 race. In the fall, with support from the local ’zine, Geneva13, the annual Finger Lakes Film Festival will screen entries at the Cracker Factory, a renovated industrial building on Geneva’s north side that houses the cultural and arts nonprofit 3Stories. On the first Friday of every month, businesses open their doors to artists and art-lovers for Geneva Night Out, a walkable series of exhibits dispersed among downtown shops and restaurants.
Alongside events like Cruisin’ Night, the city’s annual street festival, and in the tradition of cultural mainstays like the Smith Center for the Arts and St. Peter’s Community Arts Academy, these new developments are part of a “conscious effort to use the arts as a means of fostering community,” says Professor of Education Pat Collins P’09.
Collins, who helped establish the Geneva Youth Theatre Guild in 1986 and has been active in Geneva theatre projects for many years, notes that “there have always been lots of people and organizations doing lots of good work in both the schools and in the larger community but they have not always been on the same page. In the last ten years there have been a number of initiatives which have not only focused on creating art and culture but on doing so in ways that genuinely build community.”
“There is definitely an energy change in the city,” says Pablo Falbru, founder of the arts cooperative, U.G. Collective.
Falbru, who grew up in Geneva and returned in 2011 from Boston, says, “I was a little nervous about how I was going to keep myself engaged coming back to Geneva from a major city, but when I got here, I felt that there was this wind of change already happening. It was infectious.”
He started U.G. Collective in 2012 to encourage local artists “to engage in the community through service projects” and “to develop the infrastructure to accommodate those projects.”
The collective’s membership requirement is a commitment of 24 hours of service throughout the year, but for each hour served, a member will earn credits toward workshops, lessons and other goods and services offered by other members.
“We want to provide opportunities and events that promote creative growth among our members in exchange for their time,” says Falbru.
With ventures like U.G. Collective and Love Geneva, an independent grass-roots movement to support economic and social sustainability, Jackie Augustine ’99 sees a growing understanding within the city “that Geneva is a great place to live, work and play. That also makes it a great place to invest—not just money, but time,” says Augustine, a Geneva City councilor. “Civic engagement has risen to a level where I think many more people feel that they have a role to play in shaping this city’s future.”
Chevanne DeVaney '95
Part of the reason Chevanne DeVaney ’95 chose to make Geneva her home is “because the people here have big hearts and take care of each other. There are many long-time Genevans who have worked tirelessly to see this happen, and who will continue to work to make sure that this is a safe and good place to live and raise a family. I believe that many Genevans, including myself, are proud of the city—regardless of some of the social challenges that we continue to face.”
DeVaney, director of multicultural affairs and the Women’s Center at nearby Keuka College, recalls that when she arrived in Geneva for her first year at HWS in 1991, “the Colleges detoured visitors up North Street and down Main Street because downtown needed badly to be revitalized.
Since that time, not only has downtown Geneva changed dramatically, but the GNRC has worked with the entire city to encourage the citizens to revitalize their own neighborhoods.”
The GNRC—the Geneva Neighborhood Resource Center—is the public face of the City’s Office of Neighborhood Initiatives, working with individuals and with groups of neighbors across the city to improve their blocks, streets and neighborhoods.
“We want to work from the city’s strengths, highlight the unique characteristics of each neighborhood and try to collaborate,” says Sage Gerling, director of neighborhood initiatives, who has a background in landscape architecture and regional planning.
“Our first step was to look for neighborhoods ready for change, ready to take off on their own, and provide energy and focus,” Horn says. “It’s caught on from there.”
With the help of local architects and HWS interns, the GNRC collaborates with individuals and neighborhood organizations on events and improvements like neighborhood cleanups and “toppers” on street signs, which Gerling says, “have been really efficient in motivating people to get involved and take a stake in their city. People are identifying with their neighborhoods and finding home.”
Small City, Big Service
“Geneva has the advantages and challenges of a large city but at a scale you can make a difference in,” says Mark Venuti, Geneva Town supervisor.
When Rev. W. James Gerling L.H.D ’09 and Jane Rea Gerling L.H.D. ’09, moved to the city in 1980, they discussed the same idea—that Geneva “is a microcosm of a much larger urban area,” Jim says. “We thought the challenges here ought to be manageable. We could get our arms around the issues.”
Jim had come to serve a new congregation, and Jane began working with the Geneva City School District through Head Start, a federally run program serving young children from low-income families, to promote school readiness and cognitive, social and emotional development. While the job at Head Start was supposed to be part-time, Jane went on to serve as the program’s director until her retirement. “I found that the more I knew about Geneva, the more I got involved,” she says.
Jane Rea Gerling L.H.D. ’09
and Rev. W. James Gerling
In 1996, the same year Venuti helped open the Boys & Girls Club of Geneva, Jane and Geneva Head Start inaugurated the Ready to Read program, with support from the Wyckoff Foundation, to challenge children and families to read a book a week. Since 2008, Geneva Reads has been cultivating a culture of literacy through the collaborative efforts of community leaders like the city’s public and private schools, the Geneva Public Library, HWS and Finger Lakes Health. The Geneva Community Center, operated by the Boys & Girls Club, opened in 2010.
“There are so many examples of how Geneva doesn’t hide its challenges but embraces them as a community,” says Jim, who is also board president of Success for Geneva’s Children, started in 1998 “to mobilize the community to improve the health and wellbeing of all our children and their families. It is a collaborative of folks from the school district, social services, local agencies and programs that serve children and their parents, and community partners.”
In 2012, with support from the KaBOOM! Foundation and the Let’s Play group, more than 250 volunteers from HWS and around the city installed the Geneva Community Lakefront Playground—in 11 hours—on the north shore of Seneca Lake. In 2013, Peter Budmen ’15 was awarded a $2,000 Cohen Fellowship to develop a curriculum to encourage Head Start children at West Street School to continue their learning at home, enhance reading literacy skills and engage parents.
The same year, the Centennial Center for Leadership awarded Peter’s twin brother Daniel ’15 $5,000 to design and build a tree nursery at the Geneva Community Center “to help students gain a grasp of what environmental stewardship looks and feels like,” says Daniel.
“The renaissance has been fueled here in part by the wineries and tourism,” says Venuti, “but that only works if we protect our environment. We have fresh water, clean air—people hear ‘Finger Lakes’ and say I want to go there. But with diverse land use—residential, commercial, big farms— come environmental challenges to our watershed. We have industrial interests looking into the area for fracking. We have to work with farmers and wineries on best practices to protect the lake. My job is to help residents and community members plan for the future. We’re all in this together.”
Katie Flowers HON'11
“Synergy” is how Katie Flowers HON’11 describes that collective investment in the city. Flowers, who directs the HWS Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning, says, “I am struck by the level of cooperation when I see HWS students and Geneva residents interact in one-day community service projects and on-going civic engagement collaborations that produce an effect greater than the sum of individual efforts. For our many student volunteers, the partnership with Geneva undoubtedly serves as a crucial step toward leading lives of consequence in the communities in which they will ultimately find themselves.”
A New Chapter in an Old Partnership
In 2012, Geneva saw one of the largest influxes of employees into downtown in recent history when HWS relocated 70 employees to the 18,500 square-foot building near the corner of Seneca and Exchange Streets.
“This move follows our consistent and steady efforts to expand our partnership with Geneva while also adding to the vitality of downtown life,” says Gearan. “Geneva is reaching a tipping point in its revitalization process with a renewed and pervasive sense of optimism resulting from the successful establishment of so many new restaurants, shops, businesses and a thriving farmer’s market, which join established businesses with long family histories of commitment to Geneva. We believe that other businesses will discover what we have—that downtown Geneva is a wonderful and supportive place to work.”
HWS employees now occupy the first and third floors of the former Five Star Bank building, which had not been utilized for eight years, making the office one of the biggest downtown.
“At the time of the move from Alumni House, our team occupied six floors of three buildings on campus, which created a management challenge,” says Bob O’Connor, vice president for advancement at HWS.
“Daily interactions with one another are paramount to ensure our departments are all communicating around our shared goals and objectives. As 21st century office settings are moving to open space and shared work environments, the downtown space allows us to function more efficiently and collaboratively. Given the Geneva Partnership, and on the heels of Geneva 2020, this move downtown is another important step in integrating our campus community into the Geneva community, to develop further this already vibrant community.”
With the leased space privately owned and on the tax rolls, this move is one of a number of investments the Colleges have made in the city in recent years, including donations to non-profit organizations and support of civic projects, as well as a commitment of more than $1.7 million in direct payments to assist the City in balancing its budget.
Additional initiatives undertaken include the renovation of the Geneva Recreation Complex Skating Rink; the Colleges’ decision to refinance capital project debt through the Local Development Corporation, making available approximately $200,000 for economic development and neighborhood revitalization projects; and a study to identify the specific spending and employment impacts of the operation of the Colleges on the Geneva area economy.
Under the leadership of Professor Emeritus of Economics Pat McGuire HON’10, the study considered factors like the HWS budget; student and employee spending in the City of Geneva; campus construction projects and expenditures; and compensation for the more than 800 employees, many of whom live in the city or the town. The spending impact of the Colleges during 2009, the study estimates, was between $110 and $130 million.
“Looking back, there was a misunderstanding about the interactions and interdependencies between the Colleges and the local community,” explains McGuire. “There was concern in the city about the tax-exempt status of the Colleges and other not-for-profit institutions like the hospital, but also a lack of awareness of what the Colleges do from an economic perspective. The study was aimed to generate that awareness. President Gearan has actively sought to integrate the Colleges into the community and cultivate a sense of shared ownership in Geneva.”
“Our success is important for Geneva, and Geneva’s success is important for HWS,” says Gearan. “We are grateful for the many opportunities the city has provided to the Colleges during our nearly two-century partnership. Our mutual investment in Geneva ensures a bright future for this beautiful city we call home.”
Tracking The Renaissance