Niagara University senior Joseph Hotchkiss was walking to work one day when he discovered a small park at the corner of Niagara and Third streets in Niagara Falls. Since then, he’s been determined to restore it to its former glory.
“I instantly saw the potential and wanted to know its past,” the business management major from Binghamton, N.Y., explains. “It looked like, at one time, a really cool park.”
Hydraulic Park was once the site of a portion of a canal system constructed in the 1860s by the Niagara Falls Hydraulic Power and Manufacturing Company, the ﬁrst company to generate electricity from Niagara Falls. Several decades later, after the canal had been filled in, the park was built on the land. The area, where a community fountain once stood, eventually fell into disrepair.
Joe was initially inspired to begin working on this project during one of his business classes. “The class, Transforming Business, taught by professor Alegre, was my biggest inﬂuence of inspiration for service toward the park.Through that class, we really learned the value of helping out your surrounding community.”
After also learning of the rich history of the area, Joe soon realized that cleaning up the park was not the only thing in need of repair, but people’s view of the park and Niagara Falls in general needed restoration, too.
“I work at a restaurant on Third Street and my biggest complaint from tourists is that the city looks abandoned. I thought that fixing up this park would help get the community excited to change this complaint.
"Hydraulic Park was the perfect opportunity to start a change in the way people view the falls. It was a rundown space in a prime location and no one had done anything with it in years. I wanted to show the residents of Niagara Falls that there are people interested in making a change,” says Joe.
Joe soon began his quest to revamp the park by starting with the basics. “I started by doing spring cleaning — raking, weed whipping, picking up garbage, trimming hedges, and weeding by hand. After catching the eye of the community development coordinator and the Niagara Beautiﬁcation Commission, they took me under their wing and I was able to get a donation of $1,100 from the property owners. This was used to buy ﬂowers, mulch and a trash can.”
“Joe approached me to see what we could do to turn the park around,” explains Tom Lowe, director of ReNU Niagara and chair of the Niagara Beautiﬁcation Commission. “His interest in the space led NBC to approach the site owner to ask them to contribute ﬁnancially to the revitalization of the park. But even before that, Joe spent hours out there weeding, sweeping, trimming tree branches and doing anything he could by himself. He has many ideas for what to do at the park moving forward, and NBC is excited to have him leading the project.”
For his efforts, Joe has been honored with the Member Award from the Niagara Beautiﬁcation Commission and with the Main Street Business & Professional Association’s Michael A. Brundidge Community Service Award.
Joe’s plans for the park extend far beyond cleaning and planting ﬂowers. “We plan to put up a mural along the park’s shed, get the brickwork on the ground ﬁxed, restore electricity, and host live entertainment in the amphitheater,” he says.
While Joe’s professor at NU had the most inﬂuence on his success with this project, the university’s Catholic and Vincentian mission also had quite an impact on the way he values and understands the importance of community service.
“After taking the Transforming Business class with professor Alegre, I have logged probably 50-plus community service hours. This includes joining three different associations and working on multiple projects. Niagara’s dedication to its community has definitely come through in my work.”