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ART AND THE CITY
WHEN ARCHITECTURE STUDENTS MEET ALLENTOWN RESIDENTS, GOOD THINGS CAN HAPPEN. BUT THE STUDENTS NEED TO ACT QUICKLY TO BRING THEIR IDEAS TO LIFE.

Anything can happen when you mix a creative group of architecture students with a knack for building stuff, and an artsy neighborhood in search of more art.

When seniors from the University at Buffalo met with Allentown residents, the result was a series of imaginative civic projects that have a shot at putting the struggling business district on the map as a working example of community pride.

How about a curving, gridlike bus shelter where a generic one stands now? Or new bike racks emblazoned with the Allentown emblem -- an "A" in a circle? Or an impressive bronze manhole cover to replace the standard one that sits on a broken sidewalk?

Or how about some pole poetry to dress up those drab parking meters? A working windmill, an interactive Days Park "viewer" that gives observers a new perspective on the green space, or some new sculptures that take advantage of those super-narrow gaps between Allentown buildings?

Those were among the ideas that generated positive reviews and hearty debates at an Allentown community meeting last week.

"The reception of the community was remarkable," said Kathy Toefer, executive director of the Allentown Association. "People were pleased. People who don't normally get excited were very excited."

UB architecture instructor Brad Wales said he had the students develop physical studio projects this year because of their demonstrated talents with building, masonry and welding.

The seniors have until the end of the semester -- May 1 -- to come up with the community and financial support needed to get their projects off the drawing boards and onto the neighborhood streets.

That's not much time.

"The students still have a long process and a very aggressive schedule to keep to," Toefer said. "So they will be working with us on an almost daily basis."

But if anything, the short time frame seemed to rally some community members tired of grand plans that fizzle out over time without getting anywhere.

"What got me really excited is this has to be done by May 1," said Allentown Association President John Cromwell.

Aside from support from the Allentown Association, the students are also receiving a much-needed donation of steel from Rigidized Metals Corp. on Ohio Street. But they are still seeking both private contributions and volunteer assistance.

In addition, and perhaps most challenging for the group, they need to get the permits and waivers to install their projects on city property and in a historic district before their semester ends.

"It has to be sooner than later to address the permit problems," said Niagara Council Member Dominic Bonifacio. "I think if we wait on it, it will be a lost thing. But if I can find out exactly what they need, we can bring the appropriate City Hall people together to expedite this."

He said he hopes to meet with the Allentown Association this week so it can start the process to get all necessary paperwork completed by March 31.

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