Local program to review community revitalization

| Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A program designed to help local community revitalization efforts will be the focus of a special meeting Thursday.

Bill Fontana, executive director of the Pennsylvania Downtown Center, will give a presentation on the new program at noon at the Charleroi Borough Building.

The session is open to business and community leaders throughout the Mid-Mon Valley -- especially community development committee members, said Deb Keefer, executive director of the Mon Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber is a member of the Pennsylvania Downtown Center -- "the only statewide nonprofit dedicated solely to the revitalization of the commonwealth's core communities," according to the organization's website -- www.padowntown.org.

The center provides outreach, technical assistance and educational services to communities revitalizing their central business districts and surrounding residential neighborhoods.

Over the years, the center has formed a variety of strategic partnerships with local and statewide organizations in order to further its mission of promoting community revitalization and reinvestment.

The Pennsylvania Downtown Center provides education for managers and the boards and the committees that oversee main street programs.

Charleroi twice operated main street manager programs -- for nearly three years in the late 1980s and again from November 1999 through the end of 2005.

Donn Henderson, who served as main street manager during the second installment of the program in Charleroi, said he is very familiar with the center's work.

Henderson said with budget cuts meaning limited funding for local communities, local leaders must utilize all resources available to them, such as those provided by the Pennsylvania Downtown Center.

Julie Fitzpatrick, special projects coordinator for the center, said the organization works with communities whether in or out of the main street program.

She noted that, while Charleroi does not currently fund a main street program, it does have a revitalization strategy.

Charleroi's revitalization effort is a partnership of Charleroi CDC and Team Charleroi, Keefer said. She said that the hope is that "the program will get people to connect and re-establish what we'd like to see."

Keefer said the center helps communities decide what is important and then sends out community development experts to assist them.

They help local leaders determine the focus of that effort and work with them on that economic development plan.

The part-time consultants are provided at a "nominal cost," Keefer said.

"Any community should have it in their budget to have something like this," Keefer said.

Fitzpatrick said that consultants for the center would come in one day a month and guide the revitalization effort.

Fitzpatrick said that assistance could, for example, include developing a business assistance program, preservation and design assistance.

"We could help them through a strategic plan already developed or help them formulate a strategic plan and then helping them through that," Fitzpatrick said.

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