Medina resident has pushed preservation policies and action

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 18 April 2014 at 12:00 am

Heritage Hero: Chris Busch

Photos by Tom Rivers – Chris Busch is chairman of the Village of Medina’s Planning Board and Medina’s Tree Board. He also is vice chairman of the Orleans Renaissance Group, which is working to restore the Bent’s Opera House, pictured behind him on Main Street.

MEDINA – In small-town Upstate New York, there aren’t too many downtown business districts like Medina’s these days. The buildings are well maintained with a high occupancy rate.

It feels like a Norman Rockwell painting, a step back in time with so many independent merchants and sense of history with buildings from the mid to late 1800s and the early 20th Century.

Chris Busch sees the downtown’s historical integrity as a draw for the community. He has served nearly 20 years on the Village Planning Board and helped to craft zoning and design standards for the downtown. As chairman of the Planning Board, he also heads the village’s Historic and Architectural Review Board, which provides guidance to downtown building owners for signs, paint and other exterior work.

“We’ve been very successful promoting and implementing preservation because we’ve been able to do it in such a fashion that the community has been able to embrace it without angst and suspicion,” Busch said.

He praised Kay Revelas, former director of the Medina Chamber of Commerce, for rallying business owners to back preservation and a historic designation for the downtown a generation ago. Many in the community have championed the issue and the building owners have embraced it, Busch said.

“It’s taken the diligence of many people to protect the downtown business district,” he said. “It’s paying off because people very much enjoy the look and feel of downtown Medina with its history and heritage.”

Busch will be honored as a “Heritage Hero” on April 25 during a Civil War Encampment at GCC in Medina. He was picked for his leadership on the Planning Board and his many civic contributions, including the design of 11 interpretative panels in the downtown that will highlight Medina history. Those panels should be installed later this month or in early May.

Medina elementary students are part of an annual Arbor Day celebration. Students write poems and sing songs about trees. They also help plant them. Busch is chairman of the Tree Board. The National Arbor Day Foundation has given Medina a “Tree City Growth Award” and has designated the community a “Tree City USA” for its commitment to planting trees every year.

Busch works as a history teacher in Lockport. His heart is in Medina.

He served as village historian and later joined the Municipal Tree Board and has been its chairman for several years. Medina has been planting 50 to 100 trees most years in the past decade and that is helping to replenish an urban forest that was diminished by road projects, wind storms and disease.

“Medina was once known for beautiful residences and tree-lined streets,” he said. “Many years of neglect led to a severely depleted urban forest.”

The village’s commitment to planting trees has earned it awards from the National Arbor Day Foundation. It has recognized Medina with a “Tree City Growth Award” and has designated the community a “Tree City USA.”

Busch said the trees make neighborhoods more appealing visually and should make the homes more valuable and inviting for residents.

Chris Busch is pictured inside the Bent’s Opera House about a year ago during a tour as part of the Civil War Encampment in Medina. The opera house was constructed during the Civil War.

He has been a leader with the Orleans Renaissance Group, organizing the efforts to bring concerts into the community. He is vice chairman of the ORG, which is working to restore the Bent’s Opera House on Main Street. That Medina sandstone building was constructed during the Civil War.

The ORG wants to again have performances in the top floor of the site, with a restaurant on the second floor and the first floor available for businesses. Busch sees the site as an anchor for the downtown, drawing customers for other businesses nearby.

The “Heritage Hero” Committee also picked Busch for the award because of his efforts designing the 11 interpretive panels and helping to secure funding for the project.

The panels will be on Main Street with one on West Center Street by the Newell building, which was once a high-end shirt manufacturer.

A series of 11 interpretive panels that highlight Medina history and notable residents will be installed this spring in downtown Medina. Chris Busch designed the panels, including this one of the former U.S. President Grover Cleveland, who married a Medina girl, Frances Folsom.

Busch believes the panels will help locals and visitors better appreciate Medina’s rich heritage and history. He often sees people gawking at the downtown structures, aiming cameras at the buildings.

“It’s something that needed to be done to help people visualize it,” he said.

The panels will tell the stories of some of the people behind the downtown buildings and the community’s early days with a bustling Erie Canal, sandstone quarries and other industries.

“People will be surprised how much they will have an impact on tourist visitors,” Busch said. “These will without a doubt provide a reason for tourists to linger and learn.”