Hamilton Initiative, An Accident of Perfect Timing

Ruderman, Becky

As the Partnership for Community Development (PCD) celebrates its fifth anniversary, dialogue continues between board members and the Hamilton Initiative to continue renovations in downtown Hamilton.As a result of the collaboration, boarded up studios and offices became the Palace Theater, the Bookstore, Maxwell’s Chocolates, Bank Place Guitars, and the building that houses Main Moon restaurant and #2 Broad Street.Founded in the early 1900s as a movie theater, the Palace Theater housed a shoe repair store and warehouse before its recent renovation. And Colgate University’s bookstore moved off campus to its new home on Broad Street in 2003. With 25,000 square feet of space, the Colgate Bookstore became the largest independent bookstore in Central New York. As a result of the Hamilton Initiative, new customers came to downtown Hamilton, boosting the local economy.”The early work done by the Partnership for Community Development created an enthusiasm and climate in the village,” observed Colgate University’s Vice President for Communications and Public Relations Jim Leach, a PCD board member, “and consequently on campus, that led to the effort that resulting in establishing the Hamilton Initiative.” Colgate Trustees, headed by Tony Wailing (trustee and Class of ’59), created the fund that became the Hamilton Initiative. What turned into a renovation of the look and feel of downtown began with the Hamilton Initiative’s inquiry into purchasing one building to help develop Hamilton. Only five years ago, the majority of what are now storefronts in town were offices and factories of Vantine Studios, a photography company that makes fraternity and sorority composites. The Hamilton Initiative first bid for the building where Nichols and Beal is now located from the Vanitine family. As a competitor also bid for the building, the Hamilton Initiative bid on other buildings in the event they couldn’t acquire their first choice. But the other bidder dropped out, and insteadof just purchasing one building, the Hamilton Initiative wound up in possession of much more. With the purchase money Vanitine Studios moved up route 12B to the Air Park. Not only did this move keep between 50 to 75 jobs in the local economy, it also allowed Vantine Studios to revitalize its business with state of the art digital photography equipment and new studios and offices. And so, construction in Hamilton began. Just as things began to look up for the town, a mainstay, the Hamilton Theater, faced economic hardship. In a tough decision, the Hamilton Initiative purchased the structure, adding to the now growing consortium of Hamilton Initiative properties in town.Brendt Simpson, Associate Director of Colgate’s Annual Fund, asserts that the biggest improvement resulting from the PCD and the Hamilton Initiative is “foot traffic.” No longer is Hamilton a one-stop, drive-through town; it is a destination in itself. Simpson’s office is located in Maxwell’s Hotel, one of the structures built to replace formerly uninhabitable apartments. “Relations [between Colgate and Hamilton] have always been good,” asserted Leach. The future of the PCD and the Hamilton Initiative will always have, as Leach stated, “a focus on quality of life and sustain the individual character of town, which is one we all love.”