Cathedral Park is one of the most attractive public spaces in downtown Buffalo.
Old, towering trees. Benches. Beautiful cathedrals at either end, the historic Ellicott Square across the street.
A restful respite in the middle of busy downtown Buffalo.
Yet not everything is picturesque in this small park. Rats scurry from planter to planter, defying pest control officers who have baited the area.
And while some sections of the pocket park are well-maintained, the area at Swan and Franklin streets is filled with weeds. Its fountain is also unsightly.
"It needs some real tender loving care," said Joseph Bella, an executive associate with Quality Inspection Services.
Company President John E. Sisson echoed similar views in a letter he sent to the Common Council.
"With close to 300 employees, we'd like to greet each of them, along with our customers, with a smile and a clean, appropriate work location," Sisson wrote.
A mile away, volunteers on the Lower West Side have been performing maintenance tasks in the historic 1.1-acre Johnson Park for years. Some would like to see the city recognize the efforts by providing some resources.
What do these two parks have in common?
There's talk in City Hall of creating a model where businesses, community groups and other entities could basically adopt one of Buffalo's 180 pocket parks and recreation areas.
Here's how some city leaders see it working: Outside entities would agree to perform cleanup chores or launch beautification projects. City attorneys would make sure contracts don't expose taxpayers to potentially costly liability suits. Once all provisions are ironed out, the city would give groups the green light to proceed -- along with some equipment and supplies.
For example, Quality Inspections Services wants to manage a park beautification process that could include as much of Cathedral Park as the city desires, said Bella. The park snakes diagonally from Swan and Franklin to Main and Church streets. He said the company would likely ask the city to provide paint and cleanup supplies.
Similar arrangements have been forged in the past at some city-owned facilities, but Ellicott Common Council Member Brian C. Davis wants to expand the scope of the effort. He said providing groups lawnmowers and supplies would be a small investment that would produce visible payoffs in neighborhoods throughout the city.
Davis said that ever since the city signed a deal in 2004 to have Erie County operate Buffalo parks and recreation centers -- a deal the county is now balking at -- there have been maintenance problems in many small pocket parks.
"The county is still not up to speed, and I have little faith they'll ever be up to speed in properly maintaining [pocket parks]," said Davis.
He's convinced conditions would markedly improve if the city encourages and provides incentives to businesses, block clubs and community groups to help maintain neighborhood assets. Davis' concept drew an enthusiastic response from a neighborhood advocate.
"Applause, applause, applause," said Marilyn Rodgers, a director of the West Village Renaissance Group, when informed of Davis' efforts.
The neighborhood association has been performing chores in Johnson Park for seven years, she said. The group is also working with other organizations on a long-term restoration project in Johnson Park, which is off of Elmwood Avenue near Hutchinson-Central Technical High School.
A new model that spurs groups to become actively involved in maintaining and upgrading neighborhood recreation spots should be aggressively pursued, Rodgers said.
Mayor Byron W. Brown's administration is eager to proceed, said Communications Director Peter K. Cutler. The Law Department hopes to finalize a plan for Cathedral Park in the near future.
The city has also been meeting with members of the Buffalo Green Fund, a not-for-profit group that promotes private contributions for public beautification projects. City Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak said he's hopeful the group will volunteer to help redesign some public spaces downtown, making them landscaping showpieces.
"We want to have a plan in place by next spring," he said.