Police officers, public works and other Niagara Falls personnel were out in one of the city's neighborhoods Wednesday as the city announced the return of an annual community beautification effort known as the ZOOM Team.
ZOOM stands for Zone Outreach Objective and Mission, and utilizes staff from various city departments to tackle issues including and related to blight. The program was created in 2009 by the Dyster Administration.
Some longtime residents say it's been a better strategy to address problems than prior plans of attack. Norma Higgs of the Niagara Falls Block Club Council says the previous way of approaching problems, which she described as "hit-or-miss," was not working and lacked many links.
"ZOOM was based on team effort," she said. "It works better than hit-or-miss enforcement. Everything works together when a team works together."
One crew could be seen filling potholes on 15th Street while another could be spotted about a hundred yards away removing a sign from an abandoned business. The sign, it was explained, violated city codes.
Nick Melson, the City Administrator, says this year the ZOOM Team will target especially troubled properties and the "bad actors." He explained the city is so serious, that it even recently served "one of the worst landlords" at the airport on a holiday.
'When we go in, we look at the one or two really bad houses on the block and we're going to hit 'em hard and often," Melson said. "We're writing them up for housing court. We've worked with the courts and prosecutor and writing arrest warrants for folks who don't show up for housing court."
Mayor Paul Dyster explained that ZOOM brings numerous departments together to address a selected street and its problems together. He said even the military learned it worked more successfully when its branches of service began interacting and communicating.
Police Superintendent Bryan DalPorto says blight is problem much bigger than what his department handles but with the assistance of city inspectors and other departments, they are able to better take on crime and sweep it out of neighborhoods when the blight serving as its roots is also addressed through proper channels.
"What you see here today is an example of how city departments are partnering together to fight blight and also reduce the crime rate, which we think is an effect of the blight in the city," DalPorto said.
The first neighborhood selected for this year's ZOOM Team efforts is Pine Avenue, from 15th Street to 18th Street. Mayor Dyster explained that although there's a Main Street in Niagara Falls, Pine Avenue can be seen as the true main street of the Cataract City.
"It's got the largest concentration of small businesses in the city," Dyster said. "It is, of course, our Little Italy. It's got some famous restaurants. But Pine Avenue is changing and it's great to see the local businesspeople working together to try and make sure that even as the street changes, we preserve the things that made it attractive. Not just to our community but to tourists."
Mike Capizzi of Michael's Restaurant, located on Pine Avenue further east near Hyde Park Boulevard, urged the public to play a role in beautifying the city's neighborhoods. As a member of the Pine Avenue Revitalization Project, Capizzi offered remarks at the ZOOM Team kickoff.
"This starts with us," he said. "It starts with me. It starts with every one of you. I know times seem tough in the city right now, but a simple effort as grabbing a piece of (littered) paper, walking by and being nice to your neighbor, whatever the case may be, we could quickly turn this. I know it seems daunting. I know it seems tough but it starts with our inner attitude."