Connellsville touted for business, recreational growth
By Mark Hofmann
Published: Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013, 6:09 p.m.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fifth and final in a series of articles concerning the City of Connellsville, its financial problems and what the future might hold. Today, there are people in Connellsville who believe the city has a bright future.
Despite what some may term “troubled times” in Connellsville, there still are community members who believe the city's future looks bright.
That enthusiasm comes from the people who believe in their town.
Among them are Robin Bubarth, longtime business owner; Daniel Cocks, an operator of ArtWorks Connellsville; Michael Edwards, executive director of the Connellsville Redevelopment Authority; and Jeff Wallace, operator of West Apple Tours and Wavie and Janes Emporium.
Bubarth's father, the late Bud Murphy, started the family business in town, which has grown over the years. Like her father, Bubarth believes in Connellsville.
“I most definitely think Connellsville's future looks bright,” said Bubarth, owner of Bud Murphy's and Rock Starz and a longtime member of the Greater Connellsville Chamber of Commerce. “We have had many positive changes occur.”
Some of those changes include the train-welcoming center along the Great Allegheny Passage from Washington, D.C. to Pittsburgh; restorations of the city's parks and better use by organizations; programs organized by the Connellsville Recreation Board; use of Porter Theater, considered having much more potential; and the downtown area's better appearance with the removal of blighted properties.
Bubarth pointed to the efforts of Terry “Tuffy” Shallenberger, who recently purchased the dilapidated Aaron's building with plans to renovate it. Shallenberger also was influential in bringing a model-train museum to Connellsville.
“He could easily have spent his money elsewhere but has chosen to help his hometown in so many ways,” Bubarth said.
She also cited positive work from organizations, such as Carnegie Free Library, Connellsville Historical Society, Connellsville Redevelopment Authority and groups of citizen volunteers.
“I guess if I really put my thinking cap on, I could go on and on,” she said.
Bubarth admits, though, she has concerns about the city's finances and budget.
“As far as the budget and finances, it is my opinion that any business (and the city should be operated as a business) should never be borrowing money to pay off loans for money it has already borrowed,” she said. “If we have to borrow money to finance services, streets, recreation, police, etc., then the city should be looking for ways to increase revenue. At the very least, they should be budgeting realistically.”
Bubarth questioned the ways that council has budgeted.
“So why would they pass a budget that cannot be attained?” she said.
Bubarth noted that in her businesses, she always tells her managers and staff if they ever come to her with a problem, they should come with a solution as well.
“So, I am offering one solution,” Bubarth said. “For years, property on the South Side of Connellsville was the most valued in our city. Over a period of time, those stately, single-family, taxpaying homes have been converted to duplex housing, which has devalued the homes (less tax) and the neighborhoods.”
She said the result has been many families not wishing to live beside renters. Such families have moved from the city to neighboring townships.
“During the last year or so, the zoning board has made changes. I feel they have missed the big picture. But, perhaps it is too late,” Bubarth said. “Do they have the power to have zoned certain areas as single-family homes only, restoring some of our tax base?”
“To be a true community, it takes teamwork and dedication from its residents,” Cocks said. “Connellsville truly has the core groups working together to bring vibrancy back. Maybe not like it was in the '40s and '50s, but better than it was 10 years ago.”
Cocks said the key to a successful community is respect for one another as individuals as well as helping out in the community when needed.
Edwards said he believes the city's future looks bright, citing the number of projects.
“There has been momentum building in the business community, with new shops opening or expanding,” Edwards said. “By concentrating on our strengths and opportunities, the city can grow and prosper.”
Wallace said he believes Connellsville is at a turning point.
“We recently saw this when young families demanded that their tax dollars be spent on city improvements instead of the same organizations for the past 30 years,” Wallace said. “We are noticing all of the storefronts are filling again.”
He said the main reason that the city has turned a corner is that city homes are selling. He said Connellsville is becoming home for families from other counties, states and even from other countries.
Wallace compared revitalization to a watering hose. He sees the bike rack, snack bars, parking area behind Martin's Plaza and signage to promote the bike trail — which brings thousands of people through Connellsville every year — all as positive for the city.
“And since then, we are now at a small but steady stream,” he said, adding those not embracing the bike trail are in the minority and adhere to old ways of thinking.
“Now that we are a few years separated, we can clearly see how that way of thinking held our city back. However, it's important to always support those moving forward and dismiss those that are firmly planted.”
Mark Hofmann is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-626-3539 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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