STEUBENVILLE - What started as a conversation has become a full fledged project to open a mini concert hall in the downtown business district and bring Franciscan University of Steubenville students to the historic area of the city.
"This is the brainchild of Joseph Antoniello and myself. We were talking this past summer about the gap between the hilltop campus and the downtown area. Sure, we will go to one of the fast food businesses, maybe the Fort Steuben Mall or Kroger. But not many students think about going downtown and there are a lot of really neat places here. So we talked and then we took a walk downtown to see if we could develop something in the downtown," explained Mark Barnes, a university sophomore from Charlottesville, Va.
"Instead of always visiting a restaurant on Sunset Boulevard, why not check out one of the good food places in the downtown. There is good food and a great atmosphere when you visit one of the downtown places. And we are still discovering more places to eat downtown," Barnes said.
STUDENTS START MUSIC CENTER — Joseph Antoniello, left, and Mark Barnes of the Harmonium Project stand on the entrance steps of the former Independent Order of Odd Fellows building on North Fourth Street. The two Franciscan University of Steubenville students have organized a project to restore the building to host weekly concerts for Franciscan students and to offer free music lessons to city youth. -- Dave Gossett
The two men created the Harmonium project and soon spotted the vacant Independent Order of Odd Fellows building in the center of the downtown business district.
"We were walking along North Fourth Street and spotted this vacant building. It is literally in the heart of the downtown. We talked to the city about who owned the building and then called owner Steve Vukelic. He has been incredibly supportive of our efforts and is renting us this building for a nominal fee. We are now working closely with Steve to restore the building and to create a place where we can offer weekly concerts to attract Franciscan students to the downtown as well as city residents," continued Barnes.
Their first concert will actually take place at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Berkman Amphitheater and is a fundraiser to gain funding for the Harmonium project.
"We have made arrangements to bring Christian singer Audrey Assad to Steubenville. Tickets are $15 each. And we believe it will be a success. It is supposed to be a beautiful evening for music and fellowship," added Barnes.
"It is really our duties as Christians to try and better our environment. We have a large student body on the hilltop and a really cool downtown with a lot of history. So why not use our students as a catalyst for economic growth in the downtown," added Barnes.
"Unfortunately there is sometimes a perception that the downtown is a scary place and nothing could be further from the truth. We have a mission program at Franciscan University that sends students all over the country and the world for mission trips. Why not send the students to the downtown to show this is our community," commented Barnes.
"During the past three weeks we have been averaging 30 students working in the building every weekend and students stopping by every day for a few hours to do the renovation work. We are pretty much doing whatever needs done. And there is still a lot of work to do here. But we are making substantial progress every day," said Antoniello of Lubbock, Texas.
"The top floor is a ballroom atmosphere. It will be used for a music venue area. And we will rent the space for other student events. It will be a place for Franciscan students to come downtown and hang out," noted Antoniello.
"The first floor up from the street will be used for free music lessons for city youth. We want to make a place available for youth who don't have a place to go who may want to learn how to play an instrument. So we will be looking for Franciscan students who may want to volunteer their efforts to tutor the kids in music. We are now starting the application process to be a licensed child care provider starting in 2014," Antoniello said.
"This is about integrating the student population with the downtown," added Barnes.
That is welcome news for Jerry Barilla, president of the Steubenville Revitalization Group.
"We have been talking for sometime about bringing the college students downtown in some way. The Harmonium Project may very well be the spark that ignites the revitalization of our downtown. We are already hearing about other potential projects in the downtown and I am excited about the potential we could see here," said Barilla.
"We welcome everyone to downtown Steubenville, especially the Franciscan University students. We have a lot to offer here and hope the students learn about the city and its history," Barilla said.
And after Barnes and Antoniello graduate from the university they say the project will continue.
"You are looking at two-sixths of the Harmonium Project team. We want to organize this project so the work will continue into the future. This is our hometown now. We live here and want to help make Steubenville a strong community. This is a means to revitalize our community. Its not the end, it is only the beginning," Barnes remarked.
"And both of us plan on staying here for at least a couple of years after we graduate," added Antoniello.