Earlier today, my husband and I attended the City of Fitchburg’s 2008 Inaugural Ceremony at Fitchburg High School. New mayor Lisa Wong was sworn in, as were members of the city council and school committee. Turnout for the event was astounding – we were surprised to have a difficult time even finding a parking spot. It was encouraging to see so much support and enthusiasm from the community, with estimates placing the crowd size around 500!
There has been a lot of talk about how the new mayoral administration represents impending change for our city. I view it somewhat differently though, as a unified, vocal, methodical effort to build upon the change that has already begun. I’ve lived in Fitchburg for just over three years, and it’s impressive to see how far the city has come in even that short time. So many people have invested their time, money, and energy in Fitchburg, and we owe them all a debt of gratitude for demonstrating firsthand how much we can accomplish and what the future potentially holds on a much wider scale.
It’s impossible to create an inclusive list of those who have initiated positive change over the past few years. In January of last year, Jason Lefferts and his staff brought us the Fitchburg Pride, offering our city a newspaper that has done a great job of highlighting our community connections and local business offerings. Ellen DiGeronimo, downtown coordinator, has reinvigorated efforts to optimize the beauty inherent in the Main Street corridor. And it was in fact at a Downtown Community Forum organized by Ellen and many others that I discovered just how invested Dr. Robert Antonucci, president of Fitchburg State College, and his students are in our city too. I had no idea until then that FSC students are routinely given class assignments related to brainstorming development opportunities, improving existing infrastructure, and surveying residents regarding how we’d like to see the city evolve – essentially, the FSC professors and students are acting as pro bono consultants on our behalf! Numerous others have publicly demonstrated their belief in Fitchburg: Katrina Burton has spearheaded efforts to increase entertainment offerings at Riverfront Park, the Straight family renovated the Johnsonia building to create impressive condos and apartments, and Chris Iosua and Lance Dellagono have opened Café Destare, an upscale martini bar. Other big projects are pending, including the development of a Coco Key Water Resort at the Best Western Royal Plaza Hotel.
The work of these people and so many others proves that individual efforts CAN yield important, positive results. We must also keep in mind that there are many ongoing projects that aren’t highly visible to those just passing through. For example, a number of historical, architecturally remarkable buildings in our city are in the midst of extensive interior renovation projects – only by talking to those “in the know” or by being fortunate enough to get a glimpse inside while walking down the street does one realize that the exterior is deceiving and does not reflect the changes to come. It’s a rather fitting metaphor for our city really, and Lisa Wong’s inauguration today was our opportunity to glimpse inside at where our current forward momentum has the potential to take us. But it is absolutely imperative that all of us help out, as we can’t rely on our elected officials to do it alone.
On Friday, I found myself riding home on the train with a rather talkative seatmate. He learned that I lived in Fitchburg and responded with the disapproving “oh, what’s that like?” comment to which so many of us are accustomed. I explained to him that actually, Fitchburg is a wonderful place to live. He indicated that he had in fact not visited the city in many years and had heard that we were in the midst of a bit of a revival, the pace of which was expected to increase with our new leadership. I encouraged him to come by sometime (Chris, if you’re reading, I’m pretty sure I convinced him to come check out Destare!), and he acknowledged that it was probably inappropriate for him to draw conclusions about a place based solely on an outdated reputation. Not everyone out there is reflective enough to recognize that change is happening and HAS happened in Fitchburg, but at least with today’s inauguration, we’ve got one more thing that has people talking about how far we’ve come and where we’ll go.
So to all of the residents, business owners, and elected officials (both outgoing and incoming) out there, thank you for all that you’ve done and for all that you’ll no doubt continue to do – there are a lot of us supporting your efforts!