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PROJECT CPR

Documentary spotlights effort by EL citizens to save its struggling hometown

The 126-foot clock tower for the former East Liverpool High School is among the city’s most prominent landmarks in its downtown.

EAST LIVERPOOL — CPR usually refers to someone seeking cardiopulmonary resuscitation, an emergency procedure in which someone performs lifesaving measures. The East Liverpool Community Partnership in Revitalization (ELCPR) could not have chosen to channel a more fitting acronym for their mission, and a public TV station agreed.

A North Carolina transplant with East Liverpool roots contacted PBS regarding a grassroots effort going on in his hometown several years ago, getting the attention of a local documentary producer.

After spending more than a year doing her researching and securing footage boots on the ground, Kelly Woodward’s documentary will debut on May 1 – just in time for Historic Preservation Month.

“I never had seen a grass roots effort like this nor (the East Liverpool Community Partnership in Revitalization), which consists of a group of committed volunteers,” Woodward said during a phone interview last week. “The more we heard about this group (the ELCPR), the more interested we became.”

It took about a year in production, Woodward explained. There were many times shooting footage on the city streets, where she got to know the town as well as a couple overnights. “I’m guessing that I made 15 trips to East Liverpool over that year, as well as a lot of phone interviews and online research,” she added.

Work on the documentation wrapped in mid-February, after TV personality Regis Philbin wrapped up his narrating duties in January and music by Michael Stanley, who hails from Cleveland, was added.

The appeal of the tale laid in one struggling community’s hope for the future of its sons and daughters.

As the press release reveals, “Some successful East Liverpool High School alumni, once scattered throughout the country, have come home to chart a path for the Rust Belt city’s future. PBS Western Reserve’s new half-hour documentary showcases a grassroots effort to overcome problems that are all too common in cities ravaged by decades of decline in manufacturing.”

Drew Cooper stepped down in March as head of the ELCPR; however, he still sits on the non-profit’s board and recalls the group’s mission. “We were a group of like-minded people who had their hearts set on creating change in (East Liverpool) – especially the downtown.”

The documentary also revisits the city’s journey from 2011, when the ELCPR first approached New Castle School of Trades about opening an East Liverpool branch in the former Ogilvie Department store location. Part of the agreement the ELCPR made with NCST was that the school needed to use an existing historic building within East Liverpool and the renovation needed to follow historic building guidelines.

In addition to development, the ELCPR’s strategy included special events like the city’s jazz festival, which the group still hopes to have at the end of July despite the current quarantine, as well as creation of a downtown master plan. “We should know (about the jazz festival) in a month or so,” Cooper explained, adding that plans for a monthly concert in the Diamond on Thursday nights has been temporarily put on the back burner until next year.”

With talents ranging from professional jazz singing to marketing and architecture, ELCPR members bring an innovative spirit, as it searches for solution to save struggling small towns like East Liverpool. “The architecture in East Liverpool is just incredible, and I love the sense of civic ownership among the city’s residents,” Woodward continued, adding that she hopes that she can help others – including the city’s residents – to see what she saw. “It is such an unique place, but I suspect for some of the people who live there the beauty just blends into the background. I was really inspired by the community spirit.”

For Cooper, the appreciation for PBS is mutual. “Yes, we have a great downtown, but PBS has been fantastic. They are trying to help us show that East Liverpool is making upward movement. “

Woodward’s documentary, EAST LIVERPOOL, OHIO: MY TOWN, premieres at 10 p.m. Friday, May 1 on PBS Western Reserve (WNEO 45.1/ WEAO 49.1). She expects that it can turn up on neighboring PBS stations and be available for online viewing at www.pbswesternreserve.org.

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