Revitalizing Downtown Ticonderoga
Imagine Ticonderoga’s Montcalm Street humming with activity, its storefronts and apartment windows ablaze with light.
Jim Major, a resident of Heart Bay, not only can imagine that scene, he’s working tirelessly to make it a reality.
“Before I die, I want to see a vibrant, revitalized Ticonderoga,” he says.
He’s already bought four downtown buildings, two of which have been renovated, and he’ s chairman of Ticonderoga Revitalization Alliance, a not-for-profit organization that shares his vision. He’s also looking for more buildings to purchase and rehab.
Major’s family started coming to Heart Bay in 1911. Even as a boy, he entertained ideas of a Ticonderoga business. When he retired and moved to the lake to live year-round in 2000, he got his chance, buying and then selling a marina.
“I spent a long time trying to figure out what I could do to help the town. I saw that we had no apartment buildings. So I bought a building, renovated it and brought in a business for the ground floor,” he said.
The business is one that he frequented, the Two Bothers Meat Market.
“We’ve already seen an increased flow of traffic to downtown as their business has grown,” he said.
An “up to date, up to code” building gives a business a better chance of success, Major believes, and he’s testing that proposition with a second building.
A building that he bought for $35,000 and invested $250,000 in renovations will house a bakery and a café.
Rather than renovating the second floor for apartments, he’s created contemporary dorm rooms for 16 students.
“That’s just the beginning,” said Major.
Shortly after Dr. Steve Tyrell became the new president of North Country Community College, which has a branch campus in Ticonderoga, he met with Major and other Ticonderoga civic and business leaders.
“Steve just jumped into the community, more so than anyone at the college ever has, throughout its history,” said Major.
One result of those meetings was an agreement with Major and his investors to provide housing for the out-of-state students that Tyrell hopes to attract to North Community College.
“These rooms, four quads, actually, each with its own shared, common space, will be ready for the fall semester. We hope to add more space every year. We can accommodate more than a hundred new students, and hundreds more if we can attract a new institution, such as a tech school,” said Major.
For Chattie Van Wert, who volunteers as the Ticonderoga Revitalization Alliance’s executive director, populating downtown Ticonderoga with students is an important first step in making the town a North Country Beacon or Hudson – other industrial towns that found new life through arts and culture.
“We have all the elements: the mountains, the lakes, the history,” said Van Wert, as well as a bourgeoning, local arts scene.
Among the Alliance’s efforts is something it calls Cultural Arts Initiative, which includes the creation of a new Downtown Art Gallery in space donated by the Reale family.
According to the Alliance, the goal of the gallery is not only to provide an outlet for local artists, but to “present an attractive atmosphere for tourism and businesses.”
“With other arts venues being established through downtown, our goal is to create an exciting atmosphere which would draw people in to Ticonderoga and provide a degree of economic sustainability. Eventually, the Ti-Alliance would like to sponsor art walks, and other events, linking businesses and art locations together,” the Alliance stated in a press release.
(Ticonderoga is also home to The Ticonderoga Arts Gallery at The Hancock House, operated Ti Arts, a not-for- profit organization.)
According to Van Wert, the Alliance is also pushing work force training programs to equip students for the jobs employers need to fill.
“We’re all about forging partnerships with other organizations and collaborating with others to make Ticonderoga a success,” she says.
The big box stores that opened on the outskirts of Ticonderoga sapped much of the business from downtown, but according to Van Wert, “the pendulum is swinging back.”
Aubuchon Hardware is expanding its retail space, and Two Brothers Meat Market is not only offering products that cannot be purchased at the big box store, it can compete with the big box’s discounted prices.
But to truly thrive, Ticonderoga needs more jobs than can be provided by shops and galleries.
“If we can attract four or five businesses, employing at least one hundred people each, then we’ve got it made,” says Majors.
He’s betting that his efforts, and those of the Alliance and its partners, such as the school and the hospital, give Ticonderoga a better chance of attracting those businesses than it’s had in years.
“I can envision the town fully renovated, all of its buildings operational and new businesses coming in , attracted by the town itself as well as by the fort and the scenery,” says Majors. “Ticonderoga was always a mill town. It’s time for it to get a new brand.”