By Michael Canfield email@example.com
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — The so-called “Impact Zone” in Lockport has a certain stigma attached to it.
Infamous for drugs, robberies and occasionally shootings, the neighborhood deemed as the first “Impact Zone” by police and city officials in January 2013 isn’t usually synonymous with raising a family or buying a house.
At a time when some people are moving out of the neighborhood to get away from the crime that often plagues it, one young couple, James and Maria Updegraph, is taking a stand and investing everything they have into turning the area around.
Having spent most of their lives in Lockport, the Updegraphs purchased a home on Spalding Street several years ago. The couple runs a business together creating special effects and horror masks. Together with their three children, the Updegraphs are committed to making the area safe for aspiring homeowners and families alike.
“I’ve always been drawn to the beautiful Victorians,” Maria said, noting that the couple spent a year and a half restoring the home. “It was very affordable to buy a house and restore it.”
Added James Updegraph: “They’re very affordable for young couples to come in here. We paid cash and we’re mortgage free.”
While the Updegraphs are hoping their investment in the city brings similar couples and families into the area, there are other indications that the area is starting to see growth, said Police Chief Larry Eggert. Eggert believes that’s the result of police efforts in the area.
“What you’re starting to see when you drive down Washburn or Genesee is that people are starting to rehab the houses,” he said. “You’re starting to see people take the houses and remodel them, refurbish them and make them livable again... you see people actually investing money.”
Despite the positives, the Union-Sun & Journal received several emails and comments from residents in the area who are intent on leaving the “Impact Zone.” One resident, Traci, who asked that her last name not be used, said she just sold her home.
“We moved out to the Lockport area, when our family is mostly from the Amherst and Tonawanda area, because we found a great home in our price range, compared to the homes in other areas,” she said in an email. “Four years later, things didn’t seem like they were improving so we put our home on the market and it sold quickly. We took a small loss on the home just so we can get out of the area.”
The “Impact Zone” roughly describes the area bordered by Transit, Walnut, Erie and High streets in the city. Using roadblocks, increased police presence and stepped-up building inspections, declaring an “Impact Zone” was meant as a tactic to drive out the criminal element in the neighborhood. While the initiative has seen success, violent crime still infiltrates the area from time-to-time, as evidenced by a recent shooting on Spalding Street in June.
While the official “Impact Zone” ended last year, officials still keep an eye on the area, Eggert said. One result of the increased enforcement of the area is that it pushed crime to other parts of the city, Eggert said.
“One of the unintended consequences is that there is some spreading out,” he said. “Our goal was to make the area inhospitable to the criminal element, which I think we did.”
Specific statistics are no longer kept on the “Impact Zone,” said Lockport Police Community Liaison Mark Sanders.
Due to several violent incidents involving guns since the end of May, the city and the police department held a community meeting on June 24 to address resident’s concerns and inform them on what the department is doing to crackdown on crime in the city.
The best way to reduce crime in the city, no matter the neighborhood, is to cooperate with police when an incident occurs, Eggert stressed at the community meeting. Police have had difficulty finding witnesses and victims willing to come forward, including a shooting victim in June who refused to give any information on how or where he was shot.
“The biggest thing that we could have people do to help us is just pick up the phone,” he said. “They can call anonymously and never have to use their name.”
For their part, the Updegraphs have little tolerance for the area drug dealers, users and trouble makers. Defying the “snitches get stitches” mantra of the street that trips up police investigations, the Updegraphs make no bones about their stance.
“This is my house,” Maria Updegraph said. “You’re not taking it.”
And they’re not afraid to stand up for themselves against the local criminal element, Maria said.
“What are any of these people doing for me?” she asked. “They’re ruining my community. None of these people are going to do anything for me. It’s standing up and doing the right thing.”
The couple would like to see more police manpower on the streets in Lockport and Maria suggested to Eggert that the police walk the beat in the “Impact Zone” at the community meeting last month, something the chief said he’d take into consideration.
“I have faith in them,” Maria said.
“They just need to be paid well for their jobs because they’re up against things the Lockport Police were never up against,” James added.
Maria, who has political ambitions in the city down the road, said she’s on a mission to return Lockport to its former glory. Instead of the negative aspects of the neighborhood, she wants to focus on the positives, like the sense of community that has started to build among the couple and their neighbors on Spalding Street.
“Who wants to raise kids here?” she asked. “We do, because we know that it’s not going to stay like this because we’re going to make a difference. There’s so much potential here.”
James Updegraph said that the couple looks at neighborhoods like the Allentown area in Buffalo, known for its colorful homes, to find inspiration for what they’re trying to accomplish in Lockport.
“We’re artists ourselves,” he said. “A lot of times, artists don’t have a lot of money, but they’re innovative and can do their own work on homes.”
The children growing up in the city deserve the best Lockport has to offer, Maria said.
“That’s what I’m going to fight for,” she said. “They can’t fight for themselves.”
The Updegraphs have turned down offers to move to California and never considered living anywhere but Lockport. They’re in for the long haul.
“I love Lockport,” Maria said.Contact reporter Michael Canfield at 439-9222, ext. 6246, or follow him on Twitter @MikeCanfield36.