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New Kensington to unveil Fifth Avenue as a Corridor of Innovation on Saturday

Matthew Medsger
| Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017, 8:09 p.m.
This part of Fifth Avenue will be used for the Corridor of Innovation Art and Music Festival on Saturday. The event will be the first official unveiling of efforts to improve the city.
Matthew Medsger | Tribune-Review
This part of Fifth Avenue will be used for the Corridor of Innovation Art and Music Festival on Saturday. The event will be the first official unveiling of efforts to improve the city.
The entrance to Penn State New Kensington's Entrepreneurial Center shows the work that has been done -- and what remains to be done. The center is set to have a soft opening in December.
Matthew Medsger | Tribune-Review
The entrance to Penn State New Kensington's Entrepreneurial Center shows the work that has been done -- and what remains to be done. The center is set to have a soft opening in December.
Crews work to finish construction at the Penn State New Kensington Entrepreneurial Center along Fifth Avenue in New Kensington. The center, one end of the Corridor of Innovation, is set to open in December.
Matthew Medsger | Tribune-Review
Crews work to finish construction at the Penn State New Kensington Entrepreneurial Center along Fifth Avenue in New Kensington. The center, one end of the Corridor of Innovation, is set to open in December.

Following years of effort, New Kensington's Corridor of Innovation will have its first official public debut Saturday, when organizers showcase their efforts during an Art and Music Festival.

That festival is part of an initiative to establish a zone of economic revitalization between the 700 and 1100 blocks of Fifth Avenue.

Efforts over the last several months have seen buildings repainted, murals installed, a park built and plans firmly laid for the opening of the Penn State New Kensington Entrepreneurial Center.

“We're really excited to show off the progress,” Autumn Walker, owner of Apothecary Soap Co., said of the festival and the improvements to downtown.

The changes came about after Penn State New Kensington joined with the city and the Community Foundation of Westmoreland County to provide building owners with $1,000 in grant funds for use toward facade improvements along that section of the street.

As a result, there is now a park at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Eighth Street; fresh murals on the front of the former Dattola Theater, on the side of the former Parkvale Savings Bank and along the side of Kafa Buna; and improvements made to exteriors of over a dozen Fifth Avenue buildings.

Kevin Snider, chancellor of Penn State New Kensington, said that the New Kensington community has really responded to the changes.

“For this corridor to take off as it has, the way the community has embraced it, has been absolutely incredible,” Snider said.

Sarah Snider, the volunteer coordinator for the improvements to downtown, said that the festival will mark a milestone in Penn State's partnership with the city in transforming downtown into a place where businesses and residents can thrive.

“This all has been many years in the making,” she said. “And we are only just beginning to see the impact of these efforts.

“The festival, in addition to being a celebration of all of the hard work by so many to date, helps get the word out about what is still to come.”

The festival will include live music at the new park, food trucks along Fifth Avenue and live art production.

Attendance is free and parking downtown is plentiful.

Penn State's Entrepreneurial Center will serve as one end of the corridor of innovation, Knead Community Cafe the other, and according to Sarah Snider, the center's unveiling in early December will be the next big part of the project.

Officials said the center will help to stimulate economic growth in the city by offering shared working spaces. In the evening, it will be a place for aspiring entrepreneurs, providing support and business programs to PSNK, community college and local high school students, plus representatives of small businesses looking to expand.

Phil Koch, executive director of the Community Foundation of Westmoreland County, said the idea is to use that block as a catalyst to spread the change he said has already started to come downtown.

“Our hope was that the funding provided to organizations in New Kensington would breathe new life and energy into the community,” Koch said. “The arts and music festival is a celebration of that new creative energy.”

However, according to one local business owner, while the Corridor of Innovation is, indeed, a good thing for downtown, the real catalyst for change has been Sarah Snider.

“She is just the best,” said Phillipene Orr, owner of Salon PO and Fish King, both on Fifth Avenue.

Orr grew emotional and wiped tears from her eyes as she described the work that Snider has been doing on behalf of New Kensington.

“She believed in us when no one else would. I just can't say enough about her.”

Snider, for her part, said that it has been an honor to be part of something special.

“I have no doubt that one day, I will be looking back thinking how lucky I was to be a part of helping to create this momentum alongside some pretty heroic people,” she said.

Matthew Medsger is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4675, mmedsger@tribweb.com or via Twitter @matthew_medsger.

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