Announcing Utica Proud – College Edition

Teaser Article in Utica OD
2/24/2019 article announcing the partnership between PrattMWP students and the Observer Dispatch.

Utica Proud

Bringing life back to the Handshake.City

This isn’t the “Handshake City” that your grandparents knew.

By: Emma Waller
Painted shipping container with flowers and the word "love"
One of the painted shipping containers, taken from the Facebook page.

Some people think that Utica is a dying city, but the young locals behind Handshake.City would beg to differ. Handshake.City, founded in February 2018, is a communal urban art park and marketplace that aims to bring food, art, culture, and community service events to downtown Utica, and get this – it’s made out of renovated shipping containers. 

In Baggs Square West, affectionately known as “The Backyard of Utica,” events are held throughout the summer months varying from the music and arts Downtown Getdown festival to the family-friendly Book Jam! 

Woman with straight brown hair smiling
Katie Reilly at a Handshake.City event

I sat down and talked with Katie Reilly, one of the founders of Handshake.City, who was able to give me more insight into the project. Reilly and her partners from Made in Utica, the organization that founded Handshake.City, have been organizing events in downtown Utica for the past five years, including a film series, yoga workshops, and a handful of festivals, but until recent years they held most events in the alleyway next to Bite Bakery on Genesee Street. 

Inspired by tiny houses and sustainable living, Justin Parkinson, Reilly’s main partner on the project, came up with the idea for an urban container park. Reilly stated, “It really started more with the intention to be a marketplace, and then last year as we got started we realized it fit in better with the event circuit. Now it’s all wrapped into one with the marketplace being supported by the events. With that came an unintended art gallery. It became a place for bands and it became a place for vendors as well.” In fact, almost all of the public art at Handshake.City is done by Utica natives or other people from around New York state. Marisa Vallese, an illustrator from Utica, designed the whimsical Handshake.City mural, and local muralist Tony Thompson facilitated a graffiti jam at the Downtown Getdown event at Handshake.City in August 2018. 

Illustration of smiling Golden Retriever, paint palette, stack of books, guitar, and Handshake City logo
Illustration by Emma Waller, featuring the official Handshake.City logo

One of the things that makes Handshake.City so special is the fact that almost all of the labor that goes into it  comes from volunteers and people from the surrounding communities. “The whole thing really belongs to the people who volunteer and put their own time into it,” says Reilly. 

In ‘Phase One’ of the project, volunteers helped excavate and landscape the lot and prepare the shipping containers for use. This year, volunteers will be needed just as much as in the past, since 2019 marks the start of ‘Phase Two’… but what does that entail? “We really want to build out what will be the marketplace, which is actually the containers,” says Reilly. “Right now, they’re really just like empty garage or storage spaces, but we really want them to be more like little stores, with finished walls, shelving, and lighting. So developing this is a huge part of the next phase.” It’s important for the team to continue to develop the containers, in order to benefit the vendors. They would love for people to be able to set up shop in the containers year-round, which would allow vendors to choose their own hours. 

One thing Reilly stressed about the coming plans for the container park is that they welcome all kinds of people, “Vendors can be anyone who has an idea that they want to test. If you have a product idea and want to figure out how it would want to work, we’re sort of an incubator or a launchpad for people trying to figure out what they want to do when launching a new product or business.” If development continues as planned, vendors will have even more options of how to optimize their space, and current long-term members could potentially set up shops of more permanence. For now, it is easy and affordable to become a vendor at the park, temporarily or long-term, and the vendor fee is tax deductible since the organization is a nonprofit.

people sitting at picnic tables playing board games and eating, string of flags hanging above tables with blue sky behind
Last year’s Fall Fest, photo by Katie Reilly

In addition to the development of the containers, this year brings many exciting events to Handshake.City.  The first Art Jam of the year is in May, where representatives will be seeking out local artists to help create new pieces for the park this year. In addition, Kids Day, an event focused on encouraging safety, will be held in May. Several popular events from last year will also be returning to the park this season, including Barks and Brews and the Guild of Thespian Puppets. 

The makers of Handshake.City try to host events of many different kinds, especially
focusing on showcasing things that the area is otherwise missing, such as public space to interact with dogs around, live music, public art, food trucks, and open-invite volunteer activities. Every month, this year beginning in May, there is a volunteer day where community members interested in helping out with the preparation of the park for future events are encouraged to come down to Baggs Square West and do their part.

In addition to the events, Reilly and her team have even more plans for the future: “One of the other things we want to do this year too is more workshop-type things. So maybe jewelry making classes or gardening, things like that. That’ll be a new thing that we didn’t do last year – outside of the main events, we really want to do some more hands-on experiences.” One thing that the event coordinators from Handshake.City want to emphasize is the ability for their space to give back to the people who visit it. They want people to come and enjoy the park and all it has to offer, and in return they offer services and experiences that will benefit the park visitors. Whether it’s education-based or community enhancing, the services offered by the folks at Handshake.City are ones that many people can benefit from. •

Utica Proud Final

the gateway project

by Nicolas Montes- Gonzalez
The Gateway Project is a plan to construct numerous campgrounds spread across an abandoned theme park. A day-use area along with an equestrian camping area is also in the works in hopes to boost the energy and liveliness of such a drained plot of land. The theme park this project will take over, has been sitting, uninhabited for 20 years. The gateway project has promised and given a plentiful opportunity to replenish its devastated soil and give way to future tourism. The
Adirondacks have lacked recreational opportunities in the past. With this project surfacing, in 2017 more than twelve million
people visited, increasing the average 20% since 2011. Phase one of the construction was recently completed, continuing to further the development of this 32 million dollar gateway to the Adirondacks. An abundance of work has been thrown into this project, and with good reason. Job opportunities, the economy and tourism will spike in the Utica area with the completion of this development.

“it’s great To experience the range of different sites and locations and products that people can interact with”
said Daniel Buckingham. Since this Gateway project is taking place on such a vast and old plot of land, there is an
incredibly unique history that we can really take advantage of and refurbish. Allowing people who are so used a
certain kind of lifestyle in Utica, to experience such a different landscape and way of life, just goes to show the limitless
opportunities this project can provide for tourism and the economy. People will genuinely want to spend their time doing these outstanding recreational activities because they’ve been so confined to their ways of living in a city like Utica where not much happens. This will surely provide satisfaction to anyone who decides to give back to the Utica
community all the while giving to themselves as well. Utica hasn’t seen daylight in the form of fun or any kind of outdoor activities. With this project, Utica will become a city of interest and the amount of tourists will boom. The influx of
money will provide Utica with mass amounts of economy support, in turn allowing Utica to grow as a successful tourist city. We hope you come and visit Utica and its beautiful surrounding mountains.



Holy Trinity

By Allison Keenan

Created to serve the budding Polish immigrant community within Utica proper, Holy Trinity Catholic Church was first founded in 1897. Birthed out of a devout society of Polish immigrants dedicated to the idea of a concrete place of worship within the community they had entered, the worshippers of Holy Trinity have migrated multiple places within the Utica community before finally settling on the Lincoln Avenue location. Initially welcomed at S Joseph’s German parish on Columbia Street, the devoted immigrants bolstered by their faith and newfound opportunity, soon founded the fraternal aid society, The St Stanislaus Society, dedicated to polish patron saint, Saint Stanislaus, upon which the morals and standards of the current Church today was built upon.

The first official church dedicated to the St Stanislaus Society was erected in 1897. However, the influx of Polish immigrants to the Rust Belt community soon provided the need for a larger church dedicated to serving the community of faithful immigrants. The second church was finally completed in 1910 due to extended financial difficulties. Holy Trinity, no stranger to the outside struggles of war and financial hardship, was led by the fundraising efforts of second priest, Father Alselm Muszynsk, who united the divided sections of various immigrant Catholic Poles within the surrounding area.

Cut to nearly a century later in 1996, and the unfortunate loss of several small, Utica-based businesses, the shifting of living patterns, and the depletion of the parish school reduced the communal strength of Holy Trinity. However the core values of Holy Trinity and the St Stanislaus Society persevered through the hardships of the turn of the century, and into a new, prosperous era of faith and community, as the church united with the parish of St Stanislaus in 2009.

Utica Proud

Nguyen Phat Grocery Market

The exotic flavors in downtown Utica


A store transports people to the time of their favorite pastime in their lives

by Everly Liu

Nguyen Phat Oriental Store is an Asian grocery store owned by Dung Lu and her husband. Both of them immigrated from South Vietnam to America in 1990. In 1996, Dung came to Utica, New York, and opened Nguyen Phat. The store previously located on Albany Street. In order to keep the regular customers and have more space, Dung decided to move to Bleecker Street where is only one block away from the old location. The store is filled with all sorts of Asian products. The aisle in front of the checkout counter narrowed by cardboard boxes displaying different fillings’ pastries, raw peanuts, dragon fruits, and jackfruit temptingly cracked open. Freshly roasted bread and sesame mochi balls were positioned for the impulse buy next to the register.


The products in Nguyen Phat is abundant. Dung said they have products from countries like Burma, Vietnam, China, Japan, Korea, and Thailand to catering for customers from different countries. With the certain sentimental attachment to the products from their native land, customers would like to patronize Nguyen Phat. Without much decoration, the store interior is plain. Festive tasseled lanterns hung from the drop ceiling tiles; a ceramic lucky cat waved from a shelf behind the register. The nostalgic atmosphere oozing out from every corner of Nguyen Phat Oriental Store.

illustration family.jpg

After about 14 years in Utica, Dung said she loves this city more. In the 1970s or 1980s, a number of Asian markets were founded in Utica. As time goes on, Dung and her husband gradually integrate into this city. They have two sons and a daughter. And she mentioned one of her son who works in a barbershop near New Hartford. For Dung, no matter how far she goes in life, the place where her family is will always be the best place. Nguyen Phat is where Dung and her family belong to.

“It was nostalgic; it made me feel connected to Utica,” says Annie Lee, a customer of Nguyen Phat. She says that the store catered to many different Asian cuisines as well as less expensive than their counterparts at Western supermarkets.


Utica Proud


Gives Life

More Life

Utica Public Library is the

reading center of Utica

by Bryan Park


Why should people visit the Utica Public Library? It is because the library provides a perfect place for personal development. with over 25,000 collections of books and databases, the Utica Public Library can be the good source of gaining knowledge by reading and exploring throughout books and data. The library supports everything free; visitors can rent books, magazines, DVDs, newspapers, and use computers to search up more information. Also, they hold many events throughout a year for visitors and members of the library. The librarians are very kind and helpful, they can help visitors with anything about the library when anyone asks for help.

Utica Public Library was founded in 1838. It was the first public free library in Utica. The library has over 25,000 collections of books. This collection is very various, they have books for kids, teenagers, students, young adults, adults, and seniors. Recently, the library started to support visitors and members who need help with e-books and audiobooks as well. Utica Public Library is the biggest library in Utica where many people would like to visit and explore knowledge.

The building of the library is really awesome, it is very traditional with Greek columns with two chandeliers on a ceiling. Indoor is very cozy and comfortable. Rooms and books are organized well by genres and age range for visitors to find books and other materials easily.


Screen Shot 2019-03-25 at 12.55.59 AMScreen Shot 2019-03-25 at 12.55.54 AM