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Outlook optimistic for downtown Connellsville

| Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, 12:35 p.m.
Lori C. Padilla | for the Daily Courier
The Connellsville Garden Club works along with Downtown Connellsville each fall to hold the Mum Festival. Several varieties of fall mums as well as crafts and food are available during the afternoon's event.
Lori C. Padilla | for the Daily Courier
Downtown Connellsville has been able to sponsor a Saturday morning Farmers Market. Local produce in its prime of freshness is available as well as baked goods, herbs and spices.
Lori C. Padilla | for the Daily Courier
Savor the Flavor allowed local restaurants in town to serve their favorite menu items to those who chose their restaurant to serve. The 2013 event closed off the main street in Connellsville.
Lori C. Padilla | for the Daily Courier
Downtown Connellsville has sponsored 'It's a Connellsville Christmas' for the past few years, beginning with breakfast with Santa. Church tours, cookie sales and most recently, a synthetic ice skating rink were the highlights of the day for all who visited.

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-way planning

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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