By KELSEY GHERING
Gannon University will act as one of the community partners in developing Erie’s West Bayfront under the Our West Bayfront (OWB) directive, a neighborhood outreach program.
Under the new executive director, Anna Frantz, the directive will begin neighborhood improvements made possible by $1.675 million in donations from UPMC Health Plan, Marquette Savings Bank, Erie Insurance and Gannon.
Frantz said she was drawn to the position because she is a city planner by nature and she wants to work to make tangible improvements in the Bayfront neighborhood.
An 843-acre area, OWB aims to improve the community bounded by the Bayfront Connector to the west, West 12th Street to the south, Sassafras Street to the east and Presque Isle Bay to the north, giving it the name Our West Bayfront.
This space includes over 13,000 residents and more than 4,500 structures for families, businesses, organizations and schools.
The plan was built from a variety of people who live in the community, including Gannon faculty and students who understand the local atmosphere and its needs. Residents of the west Bayfront area were not separated from the university when the plan was built, Erika Ramalho, Gannon’s director of community and government relations, said.
It is important for Gannon to be involved in this outreach because it is such an anchor to the community because of its resources, Frantz said.
“No one else can play the role Gannon has planned,” Frantz said.
The plan outlines places for improvement in the community, such as remediating blighted housing, improving infrastructure like street lighting and improving green spaces.
Housing blight is caused when vacant properties decrease housing stock, although some properties may be salvageable. Frantz said the salvageable properties would be rehabilitated and brought back into private ownership.
The OWB outreach also offers many opportunities for Gannon students to get involved, besides showing them a part of Erie that is thriving and growing, Frantz said.
Ramalho said classes are already planning to participate in OWB. One class is planning an Earth Day activity for Bayview Park; another is going to access the needs for a farmer’s market on Liberty Street.
Carol Hayes, an instructor in the English department, said she took her first year seminar students to the Bayfront and asked them to look for suitable places for artwork like murals and sculptures.
Ramalho said students looking for an academic connection could work with Gannon faculty, and students looking to serve the community through their organizations or Greek life could work with their advisers and presidents.
Natalie Yurkovic, a senior biology major and Erie native, said she would like to see more Gannon students being invited to volunteer their time and maybe even build housing in OWB.
“There’s a lot downtown that needs work,” Yurkovic said.
“I feel like Gannon doesn’t have its students do much with the area volunteering wise. There’s really just GIVE day and Day of Caring.
“It would give the students more opportunities to help out in the community.”
The project is open to all majors, and some classes have already begun participating, such as the class researching the placement and conditions of bus stops in collaboration with OWB.
Students interested in getting involved can learn more at the Our West Bayfront Facebook page and read the full plan at OWB.org.
“That’s what’s so interesting about this plan — it touches on to so many facets of life,” Frantz said.
“Whatever you’re interested in, there’s probably a connection.”
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