By JENNIFER MESCHINELLI
---- — KEESEVILLE — Spirits were high here Saturday afternoon for a community tree-lighting and market event — the first time that Front Street in the village has been decorated for the holidays in at least three years, according to organizers.
“It was fun to see the number of folks that turned out to see it,” said Deborah Mills, co-chair of the “Let’s Light up Keeseville” event. “It looks really festive. The LEDs cast a bluish tint that really looks nice.”
Starting at 2 p.m., the group held a farmers and crafters market on Front Street until 5 p.m. when it was dark enough to light the trees lining Front Street and those in Veteran’s Park.
For the many who turned out, there was a positive energy about the village’s future potential for revitalization efforts. But amid the merriment is a elephant in the room: The possibility that come January, the village could cease to exist as a separate municipality.
With a dissolution referendum set for Jan. 22, time may be running out for the village of Keeseville to come together and rebuild. If the result of the vote is to dissolve Keeseville, the village would cease to exist as a municipal unit on Dec. 31, 2014.
And while there were many village residents willing to talk about revitalization and bringing Keeseville back, few wanted to comment on the dissolution. Those that did were not in favor.
Some said they thought voters need more information to decide on dissolution.
”I think you need to know all of the facts to make an informed decision,” said Kathy Prescott, who as a town resident cannot vote on the dissolution issue, although she will be impacted.
“This will affect all of us,” said Lorna Hohn, another town resident. “What happens (with the vote) will affect the town, as well as the village.”
Others expressed concern about the referendum process and whether voters will have enough information to make a decision.
“It would be so sad to see the village go,” Barb Davidson said. “It’s part of the community’s identity. And there’s something to be said about having a mayor and a board whose focus is centered on our downtown.”
Davidson, who recently purchased some buildings on Front Street, owns three businesses in the village. But because her residence is outside the village limits, she cannot vote in the referendum. However, Davidson is still hopeful about the revitalization and has taken a big role in the effort.
She is renovating the second floor of one of her buildings into new apartments while preserving the classic architectural details. She plans to make the new apartments affordable and modern to draw people downtown for housing.
“We need young people to want to live here to make this a thriving community,” Davidson said. “We’re trying to make them attractive to the young professional.”
Her hope is that the apartment renovation will give revitalization efforts the momentum to go forward, and that someone will take interest in the other buildings along Front Street and start renovating them as well.
“It’s important for people to know that there is a place for everyone in the revitalization efforts,” said Wendy Hamilton, a village resident of 16 years. “From the young to the old — everyone is needed.”
And having young people involved in revitalization is key. If Keeseville can entice young people to stay and raise their families, the area will thrive, Hamilton said.
“There’s a lot that can be done here,” Hamilton said. “We have some great families here and because of them, this village has great potential.”
“There are so many people in the village that want it to continue,” Mills said. “People who grew up here and have families that have been here for generations want it (the village) to be what it once was.”
“It’s exciting to see people here today,” Hamilton said. “I hope others see or hear about the great things going on here and want to get involved.”
As a next step, the people of Keeseville must continue to plan events and invest in the community, Mills said.
“There were discussions of having a repeat event, possibly before the summer,” she said.
“More community events that attract people to the downtown area are needed,” Hamilton said.
Ultimately, Mills hopes that seeing people turn out for the event will inspire others to join the Keeseville revitalization group and help bring the village back to being a bustling community. She was inspired by the number of people who stepped up to help to show they cared about the community.
One of the ways Mills raised funds for the tree lights was by putting out canisters to collect change around town. She said she believes this method helped keep the event a grass-roots movement among residents of all levels and is more significant than asking a corporate benefactor to fund the effort. She would like to see others get involved and coordinate events.
“If this event inspired a revitalization resurgence in Keeseville, that would be wonderful,” Mills said.