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Bonding to Neighborhoods

Copyright 2002 San Antonio Express-News
San Antonio Express-News
October 16, 2002, Wednesday , METRO

SECTION: SUN – WESTSIDE; Pg. 1H
LENGTH: 847 words

HEADLINE: St. Mary’s bonds to neighborhoods
BYLINE: Vianna Davila

St. Mary’s University has been host for the annual Fiesta Oyster
Bake in its back yard for decades. Now the university hopes to bring
community revitalization to the back yards of its neighbors.

The university is spearheading the creation of a new neighborhood
association that will serve the homes adjacent to the campus, an area
sometimes known as University Park. The association will extend from
Marquette Drive to Culebra Road and from Camino Santa Maria Street to
General McMullen Drive. “We’re doing a community-reconnect,” said David
Simpson, St. Mary’s University vice president for administration and finance.

Following a city sweep in the University Park area last February, neighbors
came together and met with the university to discuss forming a new
association. District 7 Councilman Julian Castro encouraged St. Mary’s
University to form a partnership with the neighborhood and launch the new
association for residents who previously fell outside the boundaries of
other nearby organizations.

Simpson is piloting the new association.

“I’d like to focus what we do immediately in our neighborhood,” Simpson
said. “We’re trying to look at a way to bring some of the university
resources to the neighborhood, as well as experiential learning for students.”

St. Mary’s University hopes to help residents revitalize the area,
physically and economically.

“We’ve spoken to Fannie Mae about minority homeowner programs,” Simpson said.

He noted that St. Mary’s University probably is the biggest resource in the
neighborhood.

“We know we impact them,” Simpson said. “The university wants to direct
that influence in a positive way.”

“What’s good for the neighborhood is good for the university,” said Pat
Abernathy, news and information officer at St. Mary’s University. “And
what’s good for the university is good for the neighborhood.”

To launch the program, the St. Mary’s Alumni Association, which sponsors
Oyster Bake, donated $1,250 in start-up funds to the new association.

“We want to be a partner,” Simpson said.

“To me, St. Mary’s is another big house in the neighborhood,” said Jo Cox,
a 35-year resident of University Park.

Cox was one of the first area residents to approach the university about
starting a neighborhood association.

“We’ve had three or four meetings with a core group of people already,” she
said. “We’ve drafted bylaws.”

Cox mentioned the extensive improvements the university is making to its
facade. If St. Mary’s is spearheading these kinds of renovations, she said,
the neighborhood should follow suit.

“I like my neighborhood and I like the spirit of my neighborhood, and I
want to improve it,” Cox said

Many area homeowners hope the new association will address the continuing
problem of residential upkeep.

“One of the biggest concerns are the people who rent the houses and don’t
take care of them,” Cox said.

“Unfortunately, it’s sad to say that other people come and ruin your
neighborhood,” said Leonor Ramirez, a 26-year resident of University Park.
“It ruins it for new generations.

“We’re trying to clean our alleys and clean out the area,” Ramirez added.
She mentioned that many residents hope to improve the houses that face
Culebra Road.

“It’s an important project to us for St. Mary’s to prove that they are a
good university,” Ramirez said. “The best way they can do that is to clean
up the main street.”

However, the agenda for the association’s first official public meeting on
Oct. 3 addressed much more general concerns, such as member recruitment and
association boundaries.

Simpson led the discussion.

“This is a grass-roots level, nonpartisan organization,” Simpson
emphasized. “This is not a homeowners association. We won’t tell you what
color to paint your house.”

Many residents wanted to know how to relay their concerns to the city.

“When you call the city, they ask, ‘Well, who’s your neighborhood
association?'” said Suzette Berry, a University Park resident since 1958.

“When you have a group, they’re gonna listen,” Cox said.

Attendees also focused on the practical matter of meeting their neighbors.

“We really don’t know each other yet,” Cox said. “The next meeting should
be a mixer.”

Participants are hopeful about the future of the new association.

“I’ve seen what can be done when a university helps a neighborhood,”
Simpson said.

The University Park Neighborhood Association will meet again at 6:30 p.m.
Tuesday in Conference Room B, on the second floor of the St. Mary’s
University Center.

Area residents interested in joining the association can call Simpson at
(210) 436-3727.

vdavila@express-news.net

“I’ve seen what can be done when a university helps a neighborhood.” David Simpson, St. Mary’s University vice president for administration and finance

“What’s good for the neighborhood is good for the university.” Pat Abernathy, St. Mary’s University spokesman

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