Sun Scene: Hilbert student researches impact of Main St. grant project
Most Hamburg residents know that Main Street is the heart of the village. Not as many residents might know that nearly 40 businesses in the Village of Hamburg have received almost $800,000 in matching grants from the New York Main Street Grant Program in the past six years. Hilbert College MPA student Erin Carmina is conducting a master project to examine the financial impact of this improvement program.
“Overall, the intention with the grant monies was to bring people back to Main Street in the village. I’ll be looking at whether the rehabilitation and repurposing work has been effective in bringing new life to the village center and if the efforts have strengthened the economic vitality of the neighborhood retail district,” Carmina explained.
The many master of public administration research projects at Hilbert being researched are on a wide variety of topics. These capstone experiences integrate classroom learning with real-world professional practice.
“A master’s project is a little like a thesis paper but has a lot more fieldwork, where a regular thesis is more library research,” Carmina said.
Walter Iwanenko, PhD., dean of graduate studies and professor of public administration at Hilbert College, said that there are two main objectives of these projects.
“One is we want to give the students the opportunity to apply what they learned to the program in real world situations,” Iwanenko said. “All of the student projects are working with organizations both in the public and nonprofit sectors. So we ask the students after meeting with that organization to come up with a common objective and carry out that objective using their skills they’ve learned in the program.”
Iwanenko, who initiated the meeting with the Hamburg Village Board, considers himself a resource person to guide Carmina and others like her along during their projects. He believes that this research is merely an extension of Hilbert’s mission statement.
“The more we contribute to the community, the more we are contributing to our mission,” Iwanenko said.
Unsure of what topic to study at first, Carmina met with the Village of Hamburg Board. Carmina received the idea for her project with the help of Donald Witkowski, village administrator.
“Don came to the meeting with six or seven ideas,” Carmina said. “We talked about a couple of projects that I could do, and the idea of the Main Street Grant program came up and whether or not it had a positive impact economically and socially with the folks that are living there. It seemed like a great opportunity for me.”
Village representatives also had some questions for Carmina to answer through her research.
“A couple of the key questions that the village presented to me were about whether the grant was bringing businesses back in,” she said. “Is it bringing money back into the village? Are people still going to the Village to shop for things?”
According to Carmina, the goal of the New York State Main Street Grant Program was to bring back to life mixed-use neighborhood commercial districts and historic downtown areas through renovations, upgrades to buildings and streetscape enhancements. The area targeted by this grant is the Route 62/Main-Buffalo Streets corridor.
“The money wasn’t to build new constructions; it was for renovating and rehabilitating buildings and projects that already exist,” Carmina said.
Carmina is just in the beginning stages of the project and hasn’t decided the direction that it is going to go.
“Right now, I’m in the middle of doing background research for the project,” she noted. “What exactly I’m going to be studying about the grant, I haven’t exactly pinpointed. I’m in a research methods class now where we will see what data is already available. It’s a little overwhelming, but the village has been great to work with. I’m really enjoying it.”
A resident of West Seneca, Carmina was not too familiar with the Village of Hamburg before undertaking this project. She earned a bachelor’s degree in archaeology and anthropology at SUNY Potsdam and lived in Virginia in 2008 following graduation. Currently, she is an office manager at her father’s architectural firm, Carmina Wood Morris, P.C.
”I have had friends in Hamburg but I never knew any history about the village,” said Carmina, who’s happy to be back in the Buffalo-area. “This is all completely new to me. I am going to try to finish in January if I want to graduate on time.”
Carmina is pleased with the experience of taking part in this project and cooperation received from those she’s worked with in Hamburg. They include Mayor Thomas Moses and Special Project Coordinator Paul Becker.
“Being involved in this master’s project is giving me opportunities to interact and network with many individuals I otherwise wouldn’t have contact with, including government officials, business owners, village residents, and other constituents,” she said. “It’s still hard to believe that I’m involved in such an amazing project and that it’s actually become a reality.”
Carmina hopes to present the results of her study to the Village of Hamburg Board once the project has been completed.