Saxonburg exhales as 2-year, $1.4M renovation of Main Street wraps up
By Jodi Weigand
Published: Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013, 12:16 a.m.
Saxonburg business owners and residents can agree the Main Street rehab project was an ugly, messy pain to deal with. But they also agree it certainly was worth it.
“If you stand at one end of Main Street and look up at the white church, it takes your breath away,” said Saxonburg Mayor-elect Pam Bauman, referring to Saxonburg Memorial Presbyterian Church, at the corner of West Main and Rebecca streets. Bauman owns Mimi's Memories Antiques on Main Street.
The two years of construction included replacement of waterlines, installation of storm sewers, new curbs, red brick sidewalks, street lights and landscaping between Rebecca and Pittsburgh streets.
The final step was paving the now slightly wider Main Street and painting parking lines.
In all, 10 benches, 108 holly bushes, 36 old-fashioned streetlights and 25 trees line the community's main thoroughfare.
The $1.4 million Main Street project was funded by a PennDOT grant.
Melinda Aresto, owner of Aresto's Baking Studio, formerly Taste of Heaven Bake Shoppe, on Main Street, said she thinks the long construction period may have “scared a lot of people away.”
But she's hopeful after all the work that went into Main Street that the incoming council members will put more effort into promoting the borough, its businesses and attractions.
“The town looks beautiful,” Aresto said. “I think it was all worth it, but for us businesses it was rough.”
Jim Stanek, who co-owns the Mainstay at Saxonburg bed and breakfast, said he's received many positive comments about Main Street. He said he also sees more people walking through town.
“Especially with people staying here, they love the way it turned out,” he said. “The lighting is what they really like. At night when they drive down Main Street, it's like an old-fashioned town once again.”
The 9-foot-tall streetlights are modeled after the gas lights used in the late 1800s. They're adorned with temporary Christmas decorations purchased by the Saxonburg Historical and Restoration Commission and council's personal donations.
Council chips in for decorations
Light-up night was fast approaching in November, and council still was searching for new holiday decorations to fit the new light poles. The commercial-grade decorations have a hefty price tag of about $500 each.
“Obtaining those decorations for this year was not practical, so council talked about what we could do,” said council President William Gillespie Jr. “We figured we'd pay for it ourselves. Our budget was closing out at the end of the year … and it just seemed the right thing to do for all of council.”
All seven council members contributed to pay for about half of the $700 cost of temporary decorations bought at a local home improvement store.
Council anticipates using borough funds to buy permanent decorations in the future, Gillespie said.
Historical society spurred project
The John Roebling Historic Saxonburg Society, which came out of the Historical and Restoration Commission, spearheaded the Main Street project.
Project Manager Bob Kaltenhauser spent many days addressing business owners' concerns and talking with the main contractor, S.E.T. Inc. of Lowellville, Ohio.
“Mr. Kaltenhauser followed the day-to-day activity, and he did an excellent job with that,” Gillespie said. “We can't thank him enough.”
The society likely would oversee the second phase of the Main Street Project, from Pittsburgh and State streets to the borough building just past Butler Street.
Phase 2 lacks funding
The project could be eligible for funding under the new federal Transportation Alternatives Programs, which is similar to the program it replaced.
Like its predecessor, the TAP program will fund projects that aim to maintain history or improve a neighborhood's walkability such as Main Street projects, but with slightly revised and refined rules. That's according to Sara Walfoort, transportation planning manager at the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, the region's transportation and development planning agency.
“We expect the next round of applications will open in January or February, with projects being selected in the spring,” Walfoort said. The SPC would select funding recipients for the region, she said.
Without federal funding, it appears the second phase wouldn't be able to proceed for several years.
Gillespie said council doesn't yet have plans to fund the project.
“Money is tight everywhere,” he said.
PennDOT spokeswoman Deborah Casadei said there isn't money to fund a second phase.
“There is not money left for enhancement projects, the category that the Main Street Project falls into,” Casadei said.
Mainstay co-owner Stanek, an incoming councilman, said he wants to work to get phase 2 funded.
“One of my goals is to get the next phase finished, too,” he said.
Several business owners said the success of the first phase of the project is a testament that the rest of Main Street should be completed.
“The neighborhood is very glad that the project is over and happy with the outcome,” said Randy Cinski, who co-owns Randita's Organic Vegan Café on Main Street with her husband, Dale.
“People should come out. There aren't too many towns left where you can walk down the street and look in the windows and just enjoy the area and the historic buildings.”
Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or email@example.com.
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