NU Student Working to Save Forgotten Park

November 14, 2013 Updated Nov 14, 2013 at 8:03 PM EDT

By Ed Reilly

November 14, 2013 Updated Nov 14, 2013 at 8:03 PM EDT

Niagara Falls, N.Y. (WKBW) At one point in its history, Hydraulic Park was a show piece in the downtown Niagara Falls area featuring an amphitheater and large water fountain.

Through the years, the park has fallen into disrepair until Niagara University senior business major Joe Hotchkiss started a one-person effort to clean it up and restore it.

For his effort, Hotchkiss will receive a civic award from the Niagara Falls Main Street Business & Professional Association on Friday.

The following is a news release sent out by Niagara University:

NIAGARA UNIVERSITY, N.Y. - Niagara University senior Joseph Hotchkiss will soon receive his second award based on his ongoing efforts to rebuild and transform Hydraulic Park, located on the corner of Niagara and Third streets in Niagara Falls.

Hotchkiss, a business management major from Binghamton, N.Y., received the Member Award from the Niagara Beautification Commission on Sept. 12 due to his cleanup project at Hydraulic Park, and will be honored with the Main Street Business & Professional Association's Michael A. Brundidge Community Service Award on Nov. 15.

Hotchkiss first happened upon Hydraulic Park before work one day in April. "I was walking down Third St. and just happened to stumble upon the park. I instantly saw the potential and wanted to know its past. It looked like, at one time, a really cool park."

Hydraulic Park was once the site of a portion of a canal system constructed in the 1860s by the Niagara Falls Hydraulic Power and Manufacturing Company, the first company to generate electricity from Niagara Falls. Several decades later, after the canal had been filled in, Hydraulic Park was built on the land. The area, where a community fountain once stood, eventually fell into disrepair.

Hotchkiss was initially inspired to begin working on this project when he began working with Professor Mitch Alegre in one of his business classes. "The class, Transforming Business (MGT 465), taught by Professor Alegre was my biggest influence of inspiration for service toward the park. Through that class, we really learned the value of helping out your surrounding community."

After also learning of the rich history of the area, Hotchkiss soon realized that cleaning up the park was not the only thing in need of repair, but people's view of the park and Niagara Falls in general needed restoration, too.

"I work at a restaurant on Third St. and my biggest complaint from tourists is that the city looks abandoned. I thought that fixing up this park would help get the community excited to change this complaint.

"Hydraulic Park was the perfect opportunity to start a change in the way people view the falls. It was a rundown space in a prime location and no one had done anything with it in years. I wanted to show the residents of Niagara Falls that there are people interested in making a change," said Hotchkiss.

Hotchkiss soon began his quest of revamping the park by starting with the basics. "I started by doing spring cleaning - raking, weed whipping, picking up garbage, trimming hedges, and weeding by hand. After catching the eye of the community development coordinator and the Niagara Beautification Commission, they took me under their wing and I was able to get a donation of $1,100 from the property owners. This was used to buy flowers, mulch and a trash can."

"Joe approached me to see what we could do to turn the park around," stated Tom Lowe, director of ReNU Niagara and chair of the Niagara Beautification Commission. "His interest in the space led NBC to approach the site owner to ask them to contribute financially to the revitalization of the park. But even before that, Joe spent hours out there weeding, sweeping, trimming tree branches and doing anything he could by himself. He has many ideas for what to do at the park moving forward, and NBC is excited to have him leading the project."

As far as the future goes, Hotchkiss has major plans and predictions for further development of the park that he has been working diligently in. "We plan to put up a mural along the park's shed, get the brickwork on the ground fixed, restore electricity, and host live entertainment in the amphitheater," said Hotchkiss.

While Hotchkiss's professor at NU had the most influence on his success with his major project, the university's Catholic and Vincentian mission also had quite an impact on the way he values and understands the importance of community service.

"After taking the Transforming Business class with Professor Alegre, I have logged probably 50-plus community service hours. This includes joining three different associations and working on multiple projects. Niagara's dedication to its community has definitely come through in my work."

Added Lowe, "I have no problems bragging about Joe and everything he does - he is the very definition of an urban pioneer."

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