Niagara University is joining with Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, the school district, city government and more than 20 other partners to clean up several center city neighborhood blocks. 

The aim is to bolster housing stock in the city's South End, part of larger effort to attract the staff of major regional employers – Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, the Niagara Falls Central School District, the Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino and Niagara University – to live here.

According to Patti Wroebel, executive director of the Levesque Institute, the plan will unfold in three phases.

The first will come in the form of a clean-up blitz in conjunction with the university's "freshman day of service" in April. Some 200 students are expected to participate in the initiative, which will stretch from Pine Avenue to Main Street to Third Street to Portage Road, she said.

In May, the 25 community partners involved in the strategy, will put on a "Rock the Block" event over more than 10 square blocks in the city's South End. It will involve curbside cleanup, landscaping and minor home repairs between Fourth and Eighth streets. 

The changes may appear small, but "go a long way," Wroebel said.

"It's not going to happen overnight, but little by little," she said. "Little change makes big change occur."

A third phase, which Wroebel said the organization "looks forward to the most," would be a push to bring new homeowners into the area to rehabilitate the surrounding structures as private property owners.

Another focus of the initiative would involve "working with" absentee landlords in the area in attempt to rehabilitate those properties as well.

"We really want to go after them to say, 'Be part of this,' " she said.

Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center's CEO, Joseph Ruffalo, said the initiative will "reap many benefits for us" in relation to recruitment and employee retention. 

"And just as important, this project will trigger the same ripple effect that occurred as we developed and enhanced our (medical) campus here," he said.

The poverty rate in the 14301 area code, which falls nearly in the center of the city's South End, is at 42 percent, according to U.S. census numbers. Raising property values will likely displace some of the existing homeowners or renters. 

Wroebel said she did not anticipate a sizable displacement from the effort, but added the partners in the program would be able to extend opportunities for workforce training, hopefully elevating income levels to mirror a potential rise in property values.

"The collective impact model is really looking at, right now, where are gaps? And what could we do really to fill those gaps," she said.

To that end, Wroebel said the initiative would be funded through solicited donations and the in-kind contributions of its long list of partners.

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