PORT LEYDEN — Residents of the village straddling Route 12 in southern Lewis County are invited to gather for a community brainstorming session on July 30.

Mayor Heather Collins said this is the first of many meetings seeking to bring community members together to decide what they need to improve their quality of life, make plans and take action.

Spurred by the looming closure of the Port Leyden Elementary School in 2021 because of the South Lewis School District’s consolidation plan, Mrs. Collins wants to get an early start thinking about the community’s direction and how to harness the opportunity offered by the school building.

“I didn’t want to make the closure the focus of the event, but to generate some discussion and look at the big picture,” Mrs. Collins said, “A lot of ideas can come from the community perspective.”

In addition to the elementary school building, the fire department is expected to sign the field day building back to the village, Mrs. Collins said, creating another chance for a strategic community-focused space.

Mrs. Collins acknowledged a new business in the village, Reclaiming the Past Upholstery, provides a reminder of the dynamism that is possible in the old buildings lining the village center.

“They have revitalized two buildings and really sparked the community’s eye and interest. They decorate their windows for every holiday and event and keep it fresh,” she said.

As a result of those efforts and the resultant comments from other community members about the positive impact the storefronts have had, Mrs. Collins realized that looks do matter.

“I feel this place is unique and there is a lot of ingenuity in people. They are resilient. So when we go ahead and beautify the community, for example, tell part of its story through murals and revitalizing storefronts, they feel encouraged, they take pride and it gives them ideas,” she said.

As with many places from small villages to large cities, Port Leyden never recovered from the 1994 closure of its main employer, the Lally Manufacturing Corp. The garment manufacturer on Canal Street employed about 220 workers at its height.

“Our biggest challenge is overcoming an attitude that we’re never going to be what we were in the past, but little by little, I think we can change that mind-set,” Mrs. Collins said.

Since posting the flyer promoting the session, Mrs. Collins said three businesses have reached out to her to find out how they can do their part in revitalizing the village and Mrs. Collins said she hopes that is just the beginning.

“We want to nurture economic opportunity here. Maybe that will be by attracting industry, maybe it will be with workforce development or creating a maker’s space. Hopefully we can find that buy-in for the community,” Mrs. Collins said.

Representatives from the Tug Hill Commission, the county economic development and planning departments, Snowbelt Housing and the USDA Rural Development will be at the public meeting from 6 to 7 p.m. July 30 at the Fire Hall, 3387 Douglas St.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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