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East end of West Newton bridge seen as economic barrier

| Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, 12:07 p.m.

Trailside restaurant owner Rod Darby said he had a friend tell him he needed more neon signs in the windows of his pub on West Main Street in West Newton.

At a meeting held by the Trail Towns Program on Thursday, Darby said the community itself needed more “neon signs” to attract people to the riverside borough.

“What we talked about today are things we can work toward to help get projects done and help businesses and organizations grow,” said Will Prince, coordinator of the program, which focuses on eight towns along the Great Allegheny Passage.

The West Newton meeting, which had about 10 officials and community members in attendance, was the first among each of the towns, which have not been examined this way since 2007, Prince said.

He facilitated the meeting at the West Newton borough building with Grace Markum, a consultant for the Trail Towns Program.

After an hour-long walk-through with a checklist, participants discussed their findings, including the need for better signage and inviting links between the east and west sides of town for cyclists.

Dave Kahley, president and CEO of the Progress Fund, said the West Newton bridge dividing the borough acts as a barrier for some riders.

“The connection from the trail over to here (on the east side), it doesn't exist,” he said.

The Greensburg-based Progress Fund, which oversees the Trail Towns Program, is currently renovating the former Riverside Lounge at 101 S. Water St. near the bridge in order to spur economic development.

Judy Harvey, vice president of Downtown West Newton, Inc., said with the completion of the $1.2 million Simeral's Square park and the improvements to the building by the Progress Fund, trail users should be enticed to come further into town off the bridge.

“There's not one good corner there right now that the people coming over can see, if they're judging the rest of the street from that corner,” she said.

Participants also discussed the need to keep bulletin boards and the business directory kiosk near the trailhead as current as possible, which would alert travelers to amenities in town and better signage to denote which trail direction goes north toward Homestead and which goes south toward Washington, D.C.

Borough secretary Pam Humenik discussed the Main Street Program grant project, which should begin in March replacing sidewalks from Third to Water streets with brick and concrete.

Participants, including Bob Hand, president of the Westmoreland Yough Trail Chapter, discussed other aspects of economic development for the borough like parking improvements, a bike loop downtown showcasing West Newton's history or connecting other borough parks, and business possibilities for vacant Main Street stores.

“We're looking at ways to make small changes, but also big changes,” Prince said. “We can work together to make these happen.”

A report, to be released within the next few months, will be generated about the findings and compared to the 2007 assessment, he said.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or sfederoff@tribweb.com.

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