RIO GRANDE — It is hard not to notice red signs turning into construction zones while driving through the Village of Rio Grande.
These signs are all apart of the Renew Rio Project taking place in the village.
“Renew Rio is a series of investments around the community being made by a private citizen to help promote Rio Grande’s prosperity and longevity as a gateway of opportunity in Appalachia,” said DJ Falcoski, project manager. “It has overwhelming support from the community and many people are pitching in to help make the efforts a success.”
The project started earlier this year.
“This started back in mid-March , that we were contacted about the Renew Rio Project coming to town,” said Matt Easter, mayor. “It’s via a philanthropist to our community to help rebirth Rio and the university.”
The philanthropist is choosing to stay anonymous at this time but has moved right along with the project.
“It’s moved very, very quickly. I can’t tell you how grateful [I am], because this could be a dawn of a new era for Rio Grande,” Easter said.
Easter said he believes the donors have purchased about 12 properties to renovate at this time.
“[They] started looking at properties that were mainly dilapidated,” Easter said. “What they wanted to do was tear down old homes that were unsaveable and rebuild homes to increase population. Homes for families, homes for students, businesses. There’s a lot on the table.”
Falcoski said the community is helping and offering suggestions throughout the process.
“We’re just working our way through the core of Rio Grande now,” Falcoski said. “Looking at homes and the trailers that are eyesores, quite honestly. They were identified by other folks in the Village. I said we can do something about that, so that’s what we’re doing.”
Not only is the community receiving a face-lift, the donors are using the dilapidated homes to help train emergency personnel.
“Before these homes were raised, they allowed our fire department to practice on them,” Easter said. “We did some pretty pivotal training of breaching doors and how to smash through a window when there’s a fire. We trained some of our younger firemen. They even smoked out rooms, one of things the fire departments run into, unfortunately is when a child is in a house. When things go bad, children hide. So we actually smoked out rooms to teach these young fireman how to find a missing person or a pet.”
One thing that Easter said is important is that the philanthropist wants to work with the community. The Village and the University of Rio Grande are both working with the project.
“They want to work with the community. They’re not trying to displace anyone,” Easter said. “Theyr’e trying to build the community up, listening to the community of what we need. I know there’s a talk for a boutique style hotel and a curriculum for hospitality. So, basically anything we’ve mentioned we need, it goes to their drawing board.”
Restaurants, retail spaces and homes are some of what is planned for the area Easter said.
“It’s moved so fast, I think the plan is to make Rio Grande the ideal [place], which I already think it is,” Easter said. “There’s a lot going on. The town is working right along with him, so is the university.”
The project is sponsoring more than just remodeling rundown buildings.
“We have more public projects coming to town that have been funded by Renew Rio,” Easter said. “Renew Rio has been very generous to our community.”
Easter said he can not express how thankful or excited he is for this project.
“They’ve been so good to our community,” Easter said. “It’s been so exciting. I’m so excited to know when I’m gone, Rio Grande will probably have a new future that’s going to keep it going for good. It’s going to keep it kicking.”
The mayor says it still seems unreal sometimes.
“There’s times when I just wait to wake up and none of this has happened. It’s almost too good to be true,” Easter said. “We’re all very excited. The council, every department here is excited for what tomorrow will bring.”
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Brittany Hively is a staff reporter for Ohio Valley Publishing.