ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — The City of Olean invested $10 million in the past three years on “Walkable Olean,” an ongoing reconstruction project that physically transformed a main street lined with local businesses.
In 2013 the city of Olean announced it had been awarded a $6.5 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery Program grant. According to Larry Sorokes, the featured speaker at the Jan. 30 Souper Monday at St. Bonaventure University, Walkable Olean’s blueprint was then created to transform North Union Street in Olean into an accessible main street, promoting new businesses and growth in the community.
Further planning and construction of North Union Street as part of the Walkable Olean project ensued, and the project was completed in October 2016.
Once a road dotted with stoplights, the street became home to five roundabouts—a traffic-calming strategy aimed to promote walking, running and biking downtown.
Sorokes, the chief executive officer of the Greater Olean Area Chamber of Commerce, said Walkable Olean was designed to address new economic realities, to encourage smart growth and to rebuild the community from the inside out. Its vision: to become a thriving and accessible downtown for young professionals and new businesses.
“It’s about building the self-esteem of a community,” Sorokes said.
New businesses have opened since the completion of the North Union Street portion of the project: Ravyn & Robyn Lounge, My Old Time Bakery & Cafe, Windworks, Boundless Connections and Union Tea Café and Tea Shop, among others.
Also since the completion of the transformation, a possible list of new, upcoming events for downtown Olean has been drafted, as well as hope for more developments in the city. A permanent Farmers’ Market, a movie or performance theater and additional workforce housing are only a few potential ideas Sorokes hopes to see in upcoming Walkable Olean projects.
In his Souper Monday presentation Sorokes radiated hope for positive community growth. He referred to Walkable Olean as a “new direction” for the city, which according to the U.S. Census is home to 13,870 people.