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Downtown Greensburg Project is the brainchild of go-getter Jessica Hickey

Shirley McMarlin
| Thursday, July 5, 2018, 8:35 p.m.

If you keep up with what's going on in the city, you've probably heard of the Downtown Greensburg Project.

Since 2015, the DGP has been organizing, promoting and partnering in fun events and community service projects around town, the largest of which was Greensburg Craft Beer Week in October 2017 and the most recent of which was a July 1 cleanup of the parklet on South Pennsylvania Avenue.

The DGP is not an organization or a business as such. Rather, it's the brainchild of one woman who doesn't even live in Greensburg.

The idea came to Jessica Hickey of Irwin while talking with her friend Ashley Reefer, owner of Flat Tire Co. Bike Shop in Greensburg. An Irwin native and 2010 Slippery Rock University graduate, Hickey had lived in downtown Greensburg for a time and says she saw a lot of untapped potential for happenings in the city.

“It started with our vision of ways to promote business, culture and the arts around town,” Hickey says. “We wanted to make it as Greensburg-based as possible.”

She says she was particularly interested in engaging her fellow millennials in the life of the city.

Her first step was to build a website, which was easy enough, given that she works as a web and graphic designer. At Slippery Rock, she majored in public relations with minors in graphic design and business, all of which were helpful in bringing the DGP to life.

Then it was time to start organizing.

Integral part of the community

In three years, Hickey has been busy. Working around her day job, Hickey has partnered with local businesses for events like a Penguins viewing party and a Sunday Fun Day with food trucks and yard games at All Saints Brewing Co. in Hempfield.

She and Keefer worked together for a beer mile fun run at the Westmoreland Fairgrounds.

She organized “Collection 273,” a project in which locals were invited to take photos of their favorite scenes to post on social media. Photos also were displayed in The Westmoreland Museum of American Art.

Currently, she's organizing Yoga Under the Stars, a yoga session set for July 21 on the top floor of the Robert A. Bell Parking Garage on West Otterman Street.

And that's just a little bit of what she's done.

“In three short years, (the Downtown Greensburg Project) has become an integral part of the community,” says Greensburg Mayor Rob Bell. “It's almost become a marketing arm for the city. Jessica does a really good job of keeping us informed of what's going on.”

The website has grown to include a calendar of local events, information on city government and feature stories on local people doing interesting things. Hickey says she also has an unpaid summer intern working for college credit who is helping to compile a local business directory and a list of volunteer opportunities to add to the site.

Vision for the future

Craft Beer Week will return for a second year, from Sept. 21 to 29, with what Hickey says will be an expanded schedule of events.

“We have about 25 so far, and I'm hoping for 45,” she says.

Among those is Home Brew and Chill, a competition for home brewers, and Brewers Double Dare, based on the messy Nickelodeon game show.

Hickey says she gets ideas for events from talking to friends and others in the community or just “sitting there thinking.”

“I do a lot of research when I'm traveling to see what other small towns are doing,” she says. “I like to test things out. I'm a big believer in creativity as a driver of economic development.

“I like the idea of using unconventional spaces for things like happy hours and pop-ups, using empty buildings to show people what they could be — but that's something for the long term,” she says.

Her vision for the future of downtown Greensburg includes things like more green space and new businesses appealing to a younger demographic.

“When I lived downtown, I saw the possibilities of what it could be,” she says. “It's a great cultural destination to capitalize on. Art Happens and Art in the Alley are a great start. Let's keep going.”

Bridging the generation gap

“Jessica is very progressive in thinking about the future of downtown,” says Kevin Miscik, owner of Lapels A Fine Men's Clothier on South Pennsylvania Avenue. “She's such a go-getter and she's really trying to get the milennials involved, not just in fun events but in the whole life of the community.

“She's working to bridge the gap between the older generation who remember downtown when it had the big department stores and the young people who will be its future,” he says.

“There are more young people and young professionals around than you might think,” Hickey says. “We're here — we're looking for something to do, and not just fun activities, but some ways to help out in the community.

“I'm trying to network with the young creatives in the community, those people who want things to happen,” she says. “There are a lot of businesses opened by people in their 30s and 40s, and I want to help build that up. Our whole thing is getting people out doing something, doing some good, meeting their neighbors.”

“The thing I especially like is that Jessica keeps everything positive,” Bell says. “Since I've been mayor, I've been trying to get younger people involved. They're the future of the city, so (the DGP) is a good thing all around.”

Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5750, smcmarlin@tribweb.com or via Twitter @shirley_trib.

Participants in the July 1 cleanup of the parklet on South Pennsylvania Avenue in Greensburg, organized by the Downtown Greensburg Project.
Savvy Shots Photography
Participants in the July 1 cleanup of the parklet on South Pennsylvania Avenue in Greensburg, organized by the Downtown Greensburg Project.
Jessica Hickey of Irwin, founder and director of the Downtown Greensburg Project
Savvy Shots Photography
Jessica Hickey of Irwin, founder and director of the Downtown Greensburg Project
A 2016 Penguins viewing party at All Saints Brewery in Hempfield, organized by the Downtown Greensburg Project.
Downtown Greensburg Project
A 2016 Penguins viewing party at All Saints Brewery in Hempfield, organized by the Downtown Greensburg Project.
The Flat Tire Co. Bike Shop Mammoth Beer Mile at the Westmoreland Fairgrounds, organized by the Downtown Greensburg Project.
Downtown Greensburg Project
The Flat Tire Co. Bike Shop Mammoth Beer Mile at the Westmoreland Fairgrounds, organized by the Downtown Greensburg Project.
The Downtown Greensburg Project invited local residents to take photos of their favorite spots for 'Collection 273,' a 2017 exhibition in The Westmoreland Museum of American Art.
Downtown Greensburg Project
The Downtown Greensburg Project invited local residents to take photos of their favorite spots for 'Collection 273,' a 2017 exhibition in The Westmoreland Museum of American Art.
Jessica Hickey (right) founder of the Downtown Greensburg Project welcomes visitors to the 2017 Greensburg Craft Beer Week.
Downtown Greensburg Project
Jessica Hickey (right) founder of the Downtown Greensburg Project welcomes visitors to the 2017 Greensburg Craft Beer Week.
The Downtown Greensburg Project partnered with local merchants for the 2017 Small Business Saturday in downtown Greensburg.
Downtown Greensburg Project
The Downtown Greensburg Project partnered with local merchants for the 2017 Small Business Saturday in downtown Greensburg.
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