Chelsea Schneider, Municipal Innovations Specialist, Aim
When a prominent building, just two blocks north of Sullivan’s downtown square, ceased being an elementary school, community leaders came together around a big challenge.
How do you replenish activity to the city’s urban core?
In an innovative project, city leaders envisioned a revitalized use for the former Central Elementary School property. Today, it’s known as Sullivan Central Plaza with an adjoining Civic Center that plays host to a multitude of community events. The project has prompted an infusion of private investment into the downtown with new senior housing under construction.
“The name of the initiative at the time was ‘Sullivan Central Plaza – It all starts here.’ Kind of the background behind that was that’s where we were educated, that’s where we were raised, that’s where we met each other. Our community’s character was molded on those grounds,” Sullivan Mayor Clint Lamb said, “so what better place to restart the rebirth of a community than the Central location.”
Community leaders transformed the site by turning the school’s gym, which was built in the 1980s, into the Civic Center. The remainder of the former school building was demolished to create the plaza, which now serves as a gathering place for entertainment and festivals. The plaza is the site for the annual Taste of Sullivan and Plaza Palooza, which is a fundraiser for the local Main Street organization, along with a number of other events.
“Probably the biggest impact to the city is giving people hope again and bringing people to the center,” Lamb said. “Basically that activity, activity, activity – giving people something to do.”
From the project, Sullivan is seeing additional investment into the community. A new greenway system, starting at the plaza, is underway. The state’s blight elimination program has helped remove multiple eyesores, which were hurting the viability of Sullivan’s neighborhoods, Lamb said. And private developer, Flaherty & Collins, launched the Historic Sullivan Lofts project to bring new affordable senior housing to the city. The project also includes the restoration of historic facades dating back to the 1800s and 1930s.
The financial benefits of those projects will go a long way, Lamb said. But there’s an emotional impact for Sullivan residents as well.
“We’re trying to do things for people who are going to be here in 10 years, 20 years, basically children who haven’t been born yet,” Lamb said. “We hear a lot of talk about trying to attract people to your community. What about retention? Let’s focus on retaining the ones we have.”
“It’s just a great time,” Lamb added. “There’s a lot of amazing things happening here in the city.”