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Downtown Connellsville marks four years

| Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The Downtown Connellsville Initiative started four years ago.

And now, officials are focusing on the next four years and working toward the betterment of the downtown area.

Michael Edwards of the Downtown Connellsville steering committee said the initiative started in 2008, when the city was preparing to join a Main Street program through the state. But after raising $120,000 from 90 pledges, the state program changed and the city was not eligible to enroll.

With the money raised, the committee decided to put forth its own initiative. Members went back to those who had already pledged to see if they were still committed for a plan for downtown Connellsville.

“Eighty-five out of 90 said yes to be a part of this,” Edwards said.

Some of the accomplishments, to date, under the initiative are:

• The façade and sign program that has leverage in excess of $35,000 and has benefited nine businesses in the downtown area.

• The downtown beautification program has brought summer flowers and winter greenery in the baskets along Crawford Avenue.

• Planters, benches, trash receptacles and a kiosk were installed to the streetscape of Crawford Avenue with grants through the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau Hotel grant program and PNC Foundation.

• The Saturday morning farmers market featured local produce and crafts. Grants from Highmark and Fay Penn's Buy Local initiative provided vouchers for individuals to purchase fresh produce.

• The annual Mum Festival was created and brought thousands of visitors to the downtown.

• The annual It's a Connellsville Christmas features church tours, a cookie sale, photos with Santa Claus and an evening performance.

• A biannual newsletter was produced to keep the downtown businesses, other Connellsville businesses and individuals informed of the latest developments in the area.

• The Downtown Connellsville mixers are held twice a year for the community to learn about the downtown initiatives and to provide an educational and networking opportunity for local businesses.

“It's been a great effort,” Edward said. “It just shows the commitment of the community to a project like this.”

Edwards said about 20 new businesses came into the area in the last four years, including American Salon Hair & Nail, ArtWorks Connellsville, Bait and Bows, Blushie Boutique, C&C Computers, Connellsville B&B, Dancer's Corner, Endless Style salon, Ink Slingers, Jackie Lynn's Photography, Karen's Hair Fashion, La Boheme, A Little Off the Top Hair Salon, M&M Club House, Peanut's Pizza, Riverstone Counseling, River Walk Antiques, T&A House of Treasurers and Waive and Jane's Emporium.

Along with the new businesses, Edwards said there were various business developments happening in Connellsville, including the restoration of the Aaron's building, the acquisition of the former P&LE Train Station by Somerset Trust and the purchase of the former Excela Health building by King's Physical Therapy.

“People really want to see Connellsville grow and thrive,” Edwards said. He said the committee hopes that everything will continue to grow, people will continue to donate to the effort and more downtown businesses will become involved in the initiative.

For the next four years, Edwards said the committee will propose to offer sign and façade matching grants to downtown building and business owners, continue the beautification program, host and organize community festivals as well as the farmer's market in the summer and continue to partner with Seton Hill University and other institutions of higher learning to offer business planning and development classes to promote entrepreneurship in the community.

He said the committee will attempt to get funding to hire a downtown manager, which will help Connellsville again becoming eligible to be a part of a state program.

Those interested in pledging should visit the Downtown Connellsville Initiative website (www.downtownconnellsville.org) and print a pledge form. The website also offers information on the initiative, is regularly updated and has received more than 25,000 views from all over the world.

Mark Hofmann is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-626-3539 or mhofmann@tribweb.com.

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