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AMSA, Albion village want to maintain partnership

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 12 April 2013 at 12:00 am

Photo by Tom Rivers – Village Hall, at right, on East Bank Street is part of a historic downtown business district. Village officials say they want to see the Albion Main Street Alliance continue efforts for downtown revitalization.

ALBION – Before Mayor Dean Theodorakos and the Village Board commit more money to the Albion Main Street Alliance, they want assurances the organization will be viable now that it doesn’t have a paid director.

Before AMSA can give those guarantees, it would like a funding commitment from the village, so AMSA can then reach out to other private investors in the organization.

“The past has been good,” Theodorakos told AMSA board president Maarit Vaga and former president Michael Bonafede on Wednesday. “Now, what about the future?”

The two AMSA leaders said the organization’s fate, and its ability to push for downtown revitalization, may hinge on the village’s level of support. The village designated $10,000 a year to AMSA the past four years, but hasn’t set aside money for the group in the 2013-14 budget, a spending plan that needs to be approved by the end of the month. The village also contributes $5,000 annually with in-kind services.

“Whether the village will support us is critical to our survival,” Vaga told the board.

Katelin Olson, the group’s executive director for three years, resigned on April 1 because AMSA didn’t have money to keep paying her. She has offered to stay on as a volunteer interim director, and work to close out a $477,000 state grant for downtown building and street-scape improvements.

AMSA could continue as a volunteer-only organization, but that would significantly limit the group’s impact and ability to implement a four-point approach for downtown, Vaga said. AMSA was formed after Albion was picked a “Main Street” community in late 2008 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Theodorakos said he strongly backs the National Trust model for revitalizing Main Street through organization, promotion, design and economic restructuring.

AMSA has been working to implement the four-point plan, and those changes haven’t always been well received by some in the community, Bonafede acknowledged.

“Change can be difficult and we’ve brought in a lot of change,” he said.

The community is seeing the fruits of AMSA’s labor with the downtown improvements and an organization of dedicated community stakeholders, including many business owners and residents, Bonafede said. AMSA counted 6,050 volunteer hours in 2012, and 20,000 since the group formed in late 2008.

He asked what more AMSA could do to win financial support, and good will from the board.

“What is the standard we’re judged by?” he asked. “In our minds there is nothing more that we could have done.”

Village officials, including Code Enforcement Officer Ron Vendetti, said “politics” has hurt AMSA’s reputation.

But Bonafede said that was “rubbish.” Community leaders and public officials who sometimes don’t get along often get past that and become friends not long after.

“Personality clashes” shouldn’t get in the way of working for the community, Vaga said.

Vendetti wants AMSA to continue, but he said the group needs to work closer with the village.

Vaga urged the board to be a “cheerleader” for AMSA, to counter some of the naysayers and “misinformation” in the community. And she asked the board to give AMSA some money, which will help the group have more credibility to then seek private funding and other grants for community projects.

AMSA has been hurt by the public funding cuts. The town had been giving $10,000 annually to AMSA but stopped in 2013. The organization also received $10,000 a year its first three years – 2009 through 2011 – from the local development corporation of the Orleans Economic Development Agency.

Albion is one of about 3,000 “Main Street” communities in the U.S. Many of them receive their municipal funding from their local village or city, Bonafede said.

Vaga said the group wants to continue to work for community good.

“We all believe in what could happen in Albion and what Albion could be,” Vaga said. “That is what we’re chasing.”

The mayor said an AMSA funding request will be considered by the board before the budget vote later this month.