Cross-sector collaboration blooms

Winter is upon us and we would like to take a moment to celebrate the efforts of the Pioneer Avenue Revitalization Task Force, businesses and property owners, the City of Homer, artists, gardeners and community partners.

This cross-sector partnership has met since January to engage Homer’s arts, recreation and agricultural sectors to strengthen the economic, social and physical fabric of our historic​ ​downtown corridor.

The Task Force’s “Peonies on Pioneer” project coordinated the installation of murals and peony gardens along Pioneer Avenue. In June Bunnell Street Arts Center hosted community muralist and Artist-in-Residence, Kady Perry, who helped coordinate artists Sebastian Pierre, Spellar, David Brame, Susan Johnson, Jean Steele, Brian Payne, Erin Rae, Desiree Hagen, Kayla Spaan, Brianna Allen, Taylor Ashlock, Patrick Bradley and others to realize the mural projects. These artists donated over 500 hours to create murals for places along Pioneer and spark bigger revitalization and renovation projects.

Look for murals at the these businesses: The Art Shop Gallery, the neglected garage between Captain’s Coffee and Bay Realty (sponsored by Cook Inlet Keeper), Pioneer Carwash, Skiff Chick Custom Designs, ​Kachemak Center’s Heath Street retaining wall,​ and Ulmer’s Drug and Hardware​.

The second phase of the project inst​alled six peony gardens on Pioneer Avenue. These garden sites include the Duncan House, the Homer Legislative Office owned by Clay and Joan Ellington , Cosmic Kitchen, the Grog Shop, the Kenai Peninsula College, and the Homer Ch​amber of Commerce. These businesses’ investments in beautiful sites and landscaping of their properties makes Pioneer an interesting place to visit and a pleasant place to be. They join other Pioneer businesses and properties to create an attractive, vibrant business district.

A rich ecosystem of gardeners and businesses and organizations, led by the efforts of peony visionary Rita Jo Shoultz, made the peony gardens possible. Gardeners Tim Alzheimer, Barb Kennedy, Beth Van Zandt, Bernie Barnes, Crystal Campbell and Genevieve Tymreck helped identify sites and install gardens. The project benefitted from soil amend​ments and companion plants from the Wagon Wheel, Alaska Hardy and Dutch Boy, Merlin and Carol Cordes, and the Anchor Point greenhouse. Donations from Oregon Perennial and DeVroomen of more than peony roots, as well as monetary support​ from the Alaska Farm Bureau, the Homer Foundation and private donors helped defray costs. It is truly astounding to see so many sectors of our community work together on this community project.

We would also like to recognize the city of Homer for the work they do to make our community an attractive place to do business. This year, the Public Works department removed accumulated debris along Pioneer Avenue. Every year, Angie Otteson and park staff plant flowers, cut grass, empty trash cans and more. The city planted peonies in WKFL park, at City Hall, at the corner of Heath and Pioneer and along the mural in front of Nomar. Planting perennials will reduce annual maintenance costs and showcase our Alaskan peony industry.

The Peonies on Pioneer project is pleased to see other efforts on Pioneer Avenue happening. Hopped Up Espresso installed murals independently. Captain’s Coffee was recently repainted, as were the city’s fire hydrants along Pioneer. These individual efforts create a collective impact. We see more people walking along Pioneer Avenue, visiting businesses and exploring our unique community. Businesses like K-Bay Caffe and the Kachemak Center are renovating old properties. Trails like the Pratt Museum’s Woodard Creek Trail, or the Homer Theatre’s Gege Stockfleth Trail connect our historic downtown corridor to other neighborhoods.

The Peonies on Pioneer project has three more gardens lined up for Aurora Gems and Homer Council on the Arts, Homer Jeans, and the Homer Theatre. These projects will spring forth next year with blossoms and new energy.

Next summer, we hope to celebrate our community as the “City of Peonies” with a summer peony festival in July. Stay tuned, look lively, bring your own creative ideas forward. Pioneer Avenue is an expression of who we are as a community: a modern town with homestead roots, and a creative community at its best.

Adele Person is the assistant director at Bunnell Street Arts Center and part of several community wellness efforts, including the Woodard Creek Coalition, Safe Routes to School, and Peonies on Pioneer.

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