By Joel Hall
At one time, the property at 750 Main Street in Riverdale was known as part of "Uncle Bob" Lassister's grocery store. More recently, it was a beauty salon.
For more than five years now, however, the property has stood vacant -- a constant reminder of the "mom and pop" stores which once drove the economy of Riverdale.
Eighteen months ago, the property went into foreclosure. Instead of letting it lie abandoned, the City of Riverdale bought it for $50,000, and is now transforming it into a base of operation for the city's Downtown Development Authority (DDA).
The brick building, standing on Main Street since before the 1950s, was given a fresh coat of "sunburst red" paint, so that it stands out from the two privately-owned properties flanking it. With only six weeks, $1,500, and some inmate labor, the city was able to rehabilitate "a beauty salon [within the structure] into a professional office suite," according to Doug Manning, Riverdale public works and community development director.
The renovations include adding "new flooring, removing sinks, anything that gave the appearance of a beauty salon," said Manning. "It removes an eyesore and, hopefully, the adjoining landlord will look at it and do something similar," he added.
In addition to brightening up the downtown area, the building also provides a home for the city's DDA, which has operated without one since its inception in Jan. 2007.
"Most progressive cities have a development arm, and since Riverdale is a progressive city, we definitely needed that," said Iris Jessie, the city manager. "There is a place where people can go, where they can talk about their projects and access information before they even come to the city of Riverdale."
Jessie said the building will house the administrative staff of the DDA, creating a place where an active group of "business-minded people" will be "working on behalf of the City of Riverdale."
"Development authorities are able to do things without the intrusion of politics," said Jessie. "They can secure and procure grants much quicker than the City of Riverdale can, because the government makes available money for development agencies.
"We believe that this is maximizing all of our opportunities," said Jessie. "Riverdale is open for business."
Roland Downing, chairman of the DDA and a resident of Riverdale since 1960, said he is "well-pleased with the way the development authority and the city are planning the future growth of the city."
The retired banker believes giving the DDA a visible presence will promote business retention and encourage existing businesses to clean up their facades.
"With good planning, you can make this a very livable, workable community," said Downing. "The next five to ten years is a great opportunity for this city to shine."