For the first time in nearly 20 years, the Merion Village Association is under new leadership.
Tony Roell, who was re-elected to the five-member board of trustees in November, began serving as president on Jan. 1.
Roell, who lives with his wife, Sarah, on East Gates Street, said the board is focused on four major objectives this year: increase active residential and business memberships, double the general fund, enhance the local calendar of events and increase communication between the board and the area's 3,500 or so residents.
Roell replaces Bob Leighty, who still lives in the area, but did not seek re-election.
"I think it's really because of him we were able to build a better community from the advances he and the association made in the past," said Roell, 30, who works for a landscape architect firm.
Roell said Merion Village, German Village's neighbor to the south, has seen some positive developments in recent years.
Among them, the neighborhood has helped spruce up Parsons Avenue, attracted new restaurants, such as the Red Brick Tap & Grill and Explorers Club, and other small businesses, such as Ty Fine Furniture Ltd., which will open a retail center in the former RaceQuip Safety Systems building.
Condos are planned for the old Barrett Middle School property on East Deshler Avenue.
"I would say that it's a diverse community that is regaining popularity," Roell said. "We've definitely seen a lot more young professionals moving down here."
Yet, the community has some limiting aspects, Roell said. For example, it's a large geographic area that lacks identity. And there's no large corporate benefactor, such as Grange Insurance or Nationwide Children's Hospital, in the neighborhood.
"We don't have that neighborhood presence that those institutions can help build," he said.
The Merion Village Association, founded in 1985, has 250 to 300 active members, who pay annual dues of $15 to $25.
Right now, the association has $2,000 in its coffers. Roell said he wants to more than double that number.
"When the economy went down we weren't able to fund raise quite as well," he said.
"And as people have come and gone, we've lost some of our champion fundraisers. It's hard to do events when you don't have the startup money to get things kicked off."
On a related note, the MVA board is shy one board member. Those interested can send a letter of interest to the MVA offices, 1330 S. Fourth St., or drop by the next association meeting, slated for 7 p.m. Feb. 5 at the association offices.
Leighty is serving as executive director of the Parsons Avenue Merchants Association and is involved in a number of other local organizations, including the South Side Learning and Development Center.
He was elected president of the MVA in 1993 and, save for a three-year period in the late 1990s, has been president ever since.
"I'm very excited about the direction of the Merion Village Association," he said. "We have a strong board. I'm continuing to stay involved."