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Chagrin Falls to Revive Cultural History

Friday, June 22, 2007 at 9:28 AM

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One of Northeast Ohio's historic treasures, Chagrin Falls, has set out to revive its arts and culture history. Yesterday the village unveiled an $8 million plan to turn a section of downtown into an arts and entertainment district. The project is in partnership with the Chautauqua Institution, the nationally prominent arts and culture center based in western New York state. ideastream's economics reporter Tasha Flournoy has more.

Dwight Milko, a village councilman, stands outside of the 159-year-old Township Hall. It’s to be one of the anchors of the future arts district. He says restoring the hall and other buildings will support a downtown threatened by neighboring retail centers.

Dwight Milko: We feel and see the encroachment of little mini-malls, outdoor mini-malls, sort of lifestyle centers that are coming around our town. Looking to duplicate the feel or the historical look of a village like Chagrin Falls, but they can’t really grasp the authenticity or the nostalgia of it.

The nostalgic former mill town is now a growing suburb with upscale boutiques that line Main Street. But, the village’s current condition must change to compete with nearby communities. Milkos says this project serves as insurance that both the village’s character and economy will be well-preserved.

Dwight Milko: The retail part has been thriving, but we wanna just be careful and find ways to support the retail part of what we do here. So, we feel that the arts--visual and performing arts is the way that’s gonna happen. It’ll get done.

First though, they have to find the money to support the idea. The newly formed Chagrin Foundation of Arts & Culture well be trying to raise the needed $8 million. Steve Thomas, the president of the foundation’s board says that money will pay for renovating Township Hall, as well as Chagrin Falls Little Theatre, and it will help fund the national and international speakers who will come to the village under the auspices of the Chautauqua Institution of Southwestern New York.

Thomas says paying for the new arts and culture district won’t directly involve taxpayer money.

Steve Thomas: The funding plan is a combination of private donation. While we’re not looking for any tax revenue out of the village. It would be appropriate to say that we’re anticipating they’ll be public funds involved because the township hall we hope will qualify for historic tax credits.

The foundation will officially launch the campaign this fall and hopes to complete it within three years. In the meantime, the village will work with The Chautauqua Institution to plan for their future together.

Chautauqua is a gated community that prides itself on being a generator of provocative thought. In the 50s and 60s it was once an affordable get-away for New York intellectuals. Chautauqua society now attracts a mix of legacy vacationers and nouveau riche’ to their non-stop summer lectures.

Cathy Horton Panzica, owner of Beta Strategy Group, a company that helps transform businesses and communities, is a liaison between the two. Panzica says institution officials consider Chagrin Falls an ideal place to reach beyond the gates of its current enclave to form a satellite center.

Cathy Horton Panzica: This just felt right as a real first Beta experiment to take Chautauqua and bring them here. And so that’s what we proposed to the president of Chautauqua, who is extremely excited about thinking about some sort of twin sister, sort of feel between Chautauqua and Chagrin.

That twin sister feeling will start with a Chautauqua lecture series in the village next month. The first lecture, A Meteoric Rise of China and India, will feature Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mohandas Gandhi.

Tasha Flournoy, 90.3.

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