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Bears Invade Cairo

Written By The Mountain Eagle on 7/3/24 | 7/3/24

By D.M. Kamecke

CAIRO — The Cairo Development Foundation’s (CDF) website-stated goal is “to improve the town one building and one project at a time.” Given the scope of work the CDF has undertaken and continues to initiate, that appears to be an understatement.

The brainchild of Cairo residents Diana Benoit (CDF President) and Sherry True (CDF Art Project Coordinator), the nonprofit hit the ground running in 2017 when it acquired the former Bobbie Jean’s restaurant, a Main Street property condemned by the town. The CDF subsequently purchased — with a mortgage, rent and fundraising — a neighboring property, the old Cairo Garage at 467 Main Street to use as headquarters. That building had a tenant upstairs, but the lower level was empty and needed multiple repairs. 

To assess both properties, the CDF secured a grant from NYS Homes and Community Renewal, Housing Trust Fund Corporation and hired an engineering firm to conduct a feasibility study. While the report indicated that the “garage” needed repairs, it was in fair condition. That was not the case for its next-door-neighbor: 465 Main. That property had deteriorated significantly and showed potential to collapse. Given those results and the projected high costs to try and save the condemned structure, the CDF made the decision to tear it down, a process that included asbestos abatement, a tightly regulated multistep procedure.

A $150,000 grant from Greene County using additional state funds paid for the abatement and removal of that building as well as for fa├žade repairs and numerous window replacements at the 467 Main location. Interior work, including patching holes and painting, replacing the broken pipes and restoring the leaded windows in the front of the building, depended largely on fundraisers and sweat equity from an army of volunteers.  While repairs continue, and major items like insulating the basement floor remain to be done, the CDF is gearing up to rent out half its downstairs to what will be Cairo’s newest venture: The Art Hub. 

Scheduled for opening later this summer, the Hub plans to offer a variety of classes including jewelry making, pottery, basket weaving, and painting. It will also include a retail space for local artists.

Another of CDF’s latest endeavors is spearheading the restoration of the World War I Memorial Fountain located between Main Street and Jerome Ave. The CDF approached the Town, owner of the site, for permission to have work done and got input from the American Legion, which donated the American Flag. The Cairo-Durham Rotary and Town Highway employees were feet-on-the-ground removing loose stones on the pathway that made walking there precarious for some visitors. Additional work will include fixing the pump, wire brushing the cement pool, and repainting. Donations are still being accepted for this project. The building behind the fountain has reportedly been purchased and will be restored by a private investor.

As for what became of the former Bobby Jean’s site? It has been transformed into the Black Bear Park, a mini-oasis anchored by gardens, benches, and a magnificent bear sculpture. The sculpture, created by local company Metal Art by Jinx, is in the front of the upper portion of the Park. Another section is dedicated to Veterans. Potential future events include “Open Mic in the Park” with the Cairo-based Greene County Vet2Vet Writing Group.

One of the fundraisers that helps to keep the CDF moving forward is Purse Bingo, an event that sells out every year with 15 percent of its profits distributed to other worthy causes such as Greene County Animal Alliance and Little League. Another is the sale of personalized bricks for the Black Bear pocket park. 

In addition, in 2017, the CDF reestablished the Community Art Project known as the “Cairo Bears.” The Bears is a “year-long project,” says Benoit, with the following year’s paperwork beginning immediately after the auction (9/28/24). Advertising, collecting design submissions, creating maps and distributing the bare-bear statues to local artisans are just a few of the steps. Quality Automotive puts the protective coating on the bears, and the stands are handcrafted by Metal Art. One of the keys to this major fundraiser is sponsorship. Benoit acknowledges that without it there wouldn’t be Bears. With 55 unique statues to see and bid on, this event is hugely popular, not only with locals but with visitors from other parts of the county and state. 

In its heyday, Cairo and its surrounding hamlets saw an influx of people every summer. Cairo seems once again poised to become a destination, with new businesses cropping up on Main Street and its outskirts, upgrades at the town park, and some needed infrastructure repairs being done or planned. 

The Cairo Development Foundation is doing its part to help, one project at a time. Or more.

Note: Staff members include Vice-President Lysandra Braden, Treasurer Michelle Rolon, and Secretary Yuliya Benoit. The CDF encourages community input and involvement. Meetings are held on the 2nd Thursday of each month, at 7:00 pm at the Cairo Development Foundation headquarters at 467 Main Street, Cairo NY.  

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