Coraopolis facades get lift with county grant program

| Wednesday, May 15, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

When John and Carol Planitzer bought a building several years ago on Fifth Avenue in Coraopolis, its dated façade of red glass panels hadn't been changed in 30 years or more.

So when Bill Sweterlitsch, a member of the Coraopolis Business District Advisory Committee, told them about an Allegheny County façade improvement program, they decided to apply for a grant. Investing slightly more than $12,500 — the size of the grant they received from the county — they installed energy efficient windows and a new façade.

Today, the building, now home to Forberg Scientific, has a rust, taupe and buff color scheme and nostalgic gooseneck lighting. All it needs is a sign, which the Planitzers intend to install eventually. It's one of three Fifth Avenue facades updated through the county program last year; Sweterlitsch hopes six more businesses apply in 2013.

“I think it's a good thing for the business community in general,” John Planitzer said. “If we don't (update), we'll end up like some small communities” that have seen even more deterioration.

As a third-generation retailer in Coraopolis, Sweterlitsch recalls that the borough did well decades ago, then declined along with heavy manufacturing and underwent various revitalization efforts.

“We want to make a destination point of Coraopolis, not a thoroughfare,” said Jackie Smith of ESB Bank in Coraopolis, chairwoman of the advisory committee's community life effort.

The borough's location on Route 51 makes it a thoroughfare through which many motorists travel without stopping. To make it more of a destination point, Coraopolis is adding band entertainment on May 25 on Mill Street to its annual car cruise, Veterans of Foreign Wars ceremonies and a parade for the Memorial Day weekend.

Sweterlitsch, co-owner of nearby Coraopolis True Value Hardware with his brother, Ken, said the advisory committee also wants to “re-green” the downtown area with trees and flowers and install signs that would direct tourists to borough amenities.

Visitors would be introduced to Coraopolis through the county's planned Sports Legacy Park project at the eastern end of the borough. A proposed extension of the Montour Trail could connect to the proposed Moon waterfront park and Ohio River Trail into Beaver County.

Sports Legacy Park is planned for about 78 acres in both the borough and neighboring Robinson that once were the Montour Railroad's turnaround and maintenance yard. The county has until November to begin construction on the first of what could be 15 to 18 synthetic and grass playing fields.

Dennis Davin, county director of economic development, said design of the first phase of three or four fields is nearly finished.

“There is no facility like this in Western Pennsylvania,” Davin said.

The project could cost $15 million to $18 million, and accommodate major tournaments that would mean more visitors and development of new hotels and restaurants.

“Nothing we do is pie-in-the-sky,” Davin said. “We're going to see it through.”

Sandra Fischione Donovan is a freelance writer.

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