Outlook optimistic for downtown Connellsville
By Laura Szepesi
Published: Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, 11:33 a.m.
Downtown Connellsville Steering Committee members don't have time to suffer from cabin fever.
They feverishly are working on a new four-year plan for Fayette County Cultural Trust's Downtown Connellsville program.
During the past four years, $120,000 has been raised by Downtown Connellsville for community projects that were completed with volunteer assistance from civic groups. The money was pledged over the four-year period by local businesses, organizations, churches and individuals.
It's pledge time again — and the response thus far has been encouraging, said Cultural Trust President Michael Edwards.
“We've received $45,000 in pledges already, and the money continues to come in,” he said.
Four committees continue to meet regularly.
“Each group has completed a four-year plan for specific programs,” Edwards said.
He continues to gather information for a state Department of Community and Economic Development grant from the Neighborhood Partnership Program. The grant could provide Connellsville with $3 million over a six-year period.
The Allegheny Conference's Strengthening Communities Partnership collected 20 applications last year from distressed communities. The conference is an association of 300 business members dedicated to helping struggling communities to prosper.
Of the 20 applications, only five were selected — and Connellsville was one of them. The others are Wilkinsburg, McKeesport, Washington and Community South (a group of small boroughs and townships).
Connellsville used a $25,000 grant to hire a consultant — Civic Square of Pittsburgh, which provided technical assistance with the cultural trust's six-year plan.
$3 million grant update
The in-depth application will be submitted to Harrisburg, Edwards said. Much of the $3 million, if granted, will be used for projects to assist low- to moderate-income families as well as park improvements, code enforcement and other projects.
Downtown Connellsville would benefit from some of the grant. Cash would allow the group to hire a small staff to oversee the many endeavors.
During the past four years, Downtown Connellsville helped lure 20 new businesses to town. Benches and planters provide rest and beauty there. Several businesses have attractive, new awnings and signs. There are crosswalks on Crawford Avenue and Pittsburgh Street.
Mums the word
The group also hosts business-oriented seminars and mixers. It sponsors a mum festival each September, a downtown farmers' market on summer Saturdays and “It's a Connellsville Christmas” celebration.
Downtown Connellsville's track record has been possible because of volunteers.
“Many local groups team together because they believe in Connellsville's future,” Edwards stressed. “It can only be done with the help of those who care.”
Laura Szepesi is a contributing writer.
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