December 03, 2008
Downtown director to draw on local experience
Upbringing in Cortland brings inside perspective to challenges facing Cortland economy
The lure of living in places like Bolivia, New Orleans and Los Angeles did not dissuade Adam Megivern from returning to Cortland County to work in the community where he was raised.
Megivern, 31, the new director of the Cortland Downtown Partnership, who grew up in Virgil and attended Cortland High School, said he has always liked small-town life.
“The emphasis on friends and family — that’s what really drew me back,” Megivern said.
Megivern started as executive director Monday. The organization’s first executive director, Lloyd Purdy, left the position to move to Portland, Ore. with his wife in October.
Megivern graduated from Cortland High School in 1995. While studying environmental science at the University of Vermont, he decided to use his degree experience to become an environmental educator and natural resources management specialist with the Peace Corps in Pampa Grande, a town of 600 to 700 people in Bolivia.
He arrived in Pampa Grande with a mission to improve a community where everyone spoke Spanish, a language he had only studied for a few years in high school.
“I feel like I’ve been through as intimidating a thing as you can go through,” Megivern said, referring to his arrival there.
In Bolivia, he obtained a USAID grant for a municipal tree nursery and designed a waste management plan for the Pampa Grande Mayor’s Office. During his time there, there were three or four different mayors and constant change in the city, Megivern said.
After finishing in the Peace Corps, Megivern received a fellowship to attend the University of New Orleans for a master’s degree in public administration, nonprofit leadership, hazard policy. The weekend after he returned for his second semester, Hurricane Katrina struck.
As city residents began evacuating, he grabbed a few important possessions, including his laptop computer and dog, and drove to Lafayette, La. He stayed there for a week or two and returned to Cortland County just a couple of days before Hurricane Rita hit Lafayette.
During Katrina, Megivern’s three-story apartment building flooded severely. When he returned, there was a water line from evaporated water measuring about 8 feet high on the first floor. Megivern lived on the second floor, but because the building was hot and closed, the floors were warped, mold was growing rampant, and the clothes and books he had left behind were ruined, he said.
Following Katrina, he attended the University of California at Los Angeles for a semester. He then returned to the University of New Orleans and to his position with the International Project for Nonprofit Leadership. The position, which was previously part time, became a full-time job in the wake of the disaster. Whereas before, Megivern worked with five or six local nonprofit organizations to improve their productivity, after the storm, his organization began working one-on-one with employees of the organizations, who were trying to assist others in need while dealing with turmoil in their own lives. He said he coached nonprofit personnel to address their personal problems so that they could be more productive in the workplace.
After receiving his master’s degree, Megivern moved to Cortland. He worked as a laborer for Suit-Kote Corp., as he had done during the summers since 2003. He also became a substitute teacher in the Cortland city schools. His mother, Lori Megivern, teaches elective classes in law and the Holocaust at Cortland High School.
Megivern read about the search for a new executive director of the Downtown Partnership in the Cortland Standard. He had been working for the U.S. Department of Commerce in Syracuse for about a month when he was offered the position.
“But this was the job that I really wanted to be doing in the region of my hometown,” he said.
Megivern said he plans to continue some of the downtown cultural events that Lloyd Purdy helped to organize, such as Taste of Cortland and Chillabration, while bringing new ideas to the Downtown Partnership.
He said his experience working at the community level, from Bolivia to New Orleans, as well as his knowledge of Cortland, will help him to make progress in downtown Cortland.
“Just being from the area and being friendly with a lot of the local businessmen … I want to make it better,” he said.
Megivern said one of the business owners he knows is Tom Terwilliger, owner of Mando Books on Main Street and the Red Jug Pub on Central Avenue. They know each other through mutual friends.
“I think Adam, with his experience and his resourcefulness will be vital to downtown Cortland,” Terwilliger said.
Both of Terwilliger’s businesses are targeted toward college students, and he said he would like for the Downtown Partnership to work to integrate downtown Cortland with SUNY Cortland. He suggested providing student housing on the second floors of downtown buildings, allowing local businesses to cater college events and providing student buses to Main Street, as ways to facilitate growth in the downtown area
Megivern said he enjoys going to sports events at Syracuse University and is looking to get back into downhill skiing after spending many years living in warmer climates.
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