The Genesis: 1960s & 1970s
The roots for the South East Area Coalition run deep in the soil and fiber of our neighborhoods. Participating in a study by the Rochester-Monroe County Youth Board in the 1960s, southeast area groups conducted discussions and began plans for the Southeast Mobilization Project. The Reverend George Steiger, pastor of Calvary St. Andrews Parish, formalized the efforts in 1968 and became Convener of the Southside Coalition. Shortly thereafter, in 1969, Tom Swartz took over the reigns. At that time, thirteen groups attended the meetings and issues addressed by the group’s committees were similar to those addressed by SEAC today: quality integrated education, sites for senior citizen housing, recreation facilities near Highland Park and neighborhood health and mental health services.
In 1970, the Southside Coalition officially became the South East Area Coalition (SEAC) with Ellwanger Barry resident Clem Bayer as the Board President, and the first Southeast Neighborhood Council was formed. When work began on the Genesee Expressway and Outer Loop in 1971, SEAC joined the Community Organization Coalition on Zoning Reform. It was then that planning studies began on the Southeast Wedge Area. SEAC’s offices moved to 810 S. Clinton Avenue at the corner of Meigs Street.
When Tom Canton and John Briggs came on board as SEAC’s Director and Associate Director in 1972, the group was busy organizing the Genesee Gateway Task Force. At the same time, the Genesee Health Service opened and Title I funds for schools #13 and #15 were attained. The next year, three VISTA Programs began, including the Community Center Development, South Wedge Information Center and Mental Health Committee Organizing. Also in 1972, the Genesee Expressway was voted down by a 9-0 vote of City Council. Building on that success, SEAC obtained its 501[c]3 status and contracted with the Community Chest to provide Community Organization and Neighborhood Development Services.
In 1974, the first SEAC Convention was held. Those organizing efforts would result in the formation of the We Care, Laburnum, Pinnacle Hill, Winton-Cobbs Hill, Swillburg and Pearl-Meigs Neighborhood Associations. The following year, SEAC expanded its efforts to support business association organizing and published “Businews”, to share information with the businesses relocating and expanding in the area. The Genesee Corridor Task Force made its recommendations and in 1976, Neighborhood Level Planning activities expanded with work on vacant land projects, the Pinnacle Trail, Traffic Safety, and long-range neighborhood planning.
In 1977, while Kirk Kirkpatrick was Board President and Michael McKenzie was SEAC’s Director, the agency focused on issues such as South Wedge improvement, neighborhood commercial revitalization and community education. Through a grant received from New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal in 1978, part-time staff to work with the South Wedge Planning Committee for improvement in the South Wedge Area was secured.
Leading into the new decade, SEAC adopted a new constitution and by-laws in 1979 and changed the organization’s governance from a model of group representatives to a Board of Directors elected at-large from the membership.
Growing to Maturity: the 1980s & 1990s
For the first time in 1980, Human Services planning staff were hired through a grant from the United Way, and by 1981, SEAC was offering energy conservation programs and weatherization kits to area neighbors.
In the area of housing, 1982 was a big year, under the guidance of Director Larry LeFever and Associate Director Sandy Weisenreder. A controversy between SEAC and the South Wedge Planning Committee over a New York State DHCR Grant resulted in grants from the state for both agencies. Grants were made available to eligible homeowners in the targeted area. The following year, the SEAC Tool Library was established through a grant from a private foundation. That same year, SEAC was successful in gaining a commitment from NYSDOT to install noise barriers between I-490 and residences.
Our Crime Prevention activities became a formal part of our offerings in 1984 when we received a grant from NYS for those programs, and the next year, we established a Task Force to provide input on traffic management during “Can of Worms” reconstruction. Part of that process included a 1986 Study of southeast transportation needs that was funded by U.S. Urban Transportation Administration.
In 1987, with Allen Harris as Board President, Janet Laird and Keith Belton as Director and Associate Director, the SEAC Housing Task Force undertook a comprehensive Needs Assessment. Following that, a Memorandum of Understanding was developed in 1988 between the City of Rochester, SEAC and its member organizations to monitor code enforcement in the southeast.
Karla Stevens, who had come on board as the Associate Director in 1987, became the Executive Director in 1988. Her tenure would continue until Mary Wells took the helm in 1991. It was under Karla’s leadership that the Court Watch Program was organized and activated leading up to SEAC’s 20th Anniversary Celebration in 1989.
During the 1990’s organizing assistance was given to merchants’ groups with great success. The Monroe Avenue Merchants Association was awarded status as a Commercial Enhancement District (CED), as was the newly formed Mt. Hope Business Association. The Village Gate Merchants Cooperative became active, the Upper East End Association formed, as well as the Culver, University and East Association. From 1991 to 1993 SEAC organized around the expansion of the Genesee Hospital and construction of the new parking ramp garage, and the revised plan was much improved over the original.
AmeriCorps became part of the staff at SEAC, adding needed personnel resources to the ever growing and reforming associations. Most significantly, Atlantic University chose to join SEAC during the beginning of City Planning (later called NBN), and later Browncroft and North Winton Village aligned with SEAC.
During the spring of 1999 SEAC completed a five-year plan with input from residents, businesses, landlords, institutions and law enforcement, The Comprehensive Plan for the Southeast 1999-2005. Responding to a great demand for a “how to” book for neighborhood leaders, SEAC staff members wrote, compiled and published the SEAC Neighborhood Leaders Guide 2000. This guide is provided free to neighborhood and business leaders, and is filled with interesting and helpful information to assist in the formation and continuation of associations. It is available on loan to smaller groups and interested residents at the SEAC office.
2000 and Beyond
Helen Bayer Hogan (daughter of SEAC’s first president, Clem Bayer) became Executive Director in the spring of 2005. Under Helen’s leadership, task forces have been formed for several of the commercial strips in our service area. These task forces are comprised of key stakeholders for each area: neighbors, business owners, developers, City personnel, SEAC, etc. The task forces meet monthly to discuss current issues; the key stakeholders then share information with their constituents thereby communicating to all interested parties.
In 2009, the Board of Directors passed a resolution that would open up our housing grants to the entire City of Rochester rather than just the southeast. That same year saw the birth of SEAC’s Street Manager program. The Street Manager position focuses on economic development specifically for Monroe and South Clinton Avenues by keeping current with business owners and helping to attract new owners to vacant properties.
What began as a group of concerned citizens drawn together by youth needs in the 1960’s grew to become a voice for all residents and businesses in the southeast over the next forty plus years. The program areas developed then – human service referral, housing, commercial development, crime prevention – remain at the core of SEAC’s identity and offerings today.