New Stanton braces for surge in growth
At 72, the Rev. Cora Jean Black has seen her share of change — some good, some not so good. Some mightily unwanted.
But sitting in her jam-packed office at Sea-Jay's Marriage Center in New Stanton, where you can tie the knot, close on your mortgage and get your temporary car tags all under one roof, Black says there's no denying that changes have transformed her once-sedate Westmoreland County hamlet into a bustling junction.
With small towns across America shrinking, New Stanton, with 2,173 residents, bucks the trend, posting double-digit population growth in the past decade, despite an overall decline in the county.
It's a populace that swells through the day when thousands of employees report to work at sprawling facilities operated by UPS, SuperValu, Westinghouse, Fed Ex and eateries, banks, hotels and other businesses.
More workers will arrive when the state Department of Environmental Protection tops off an office building to consolidate operations from Greensburg and Uniontown.
The influx has brought a level of fiscal comfort to the borough, which hasn't raised taxes since its 1972 incorporation, council President Scott Sistek said.
The community capitalized on its location at the juncture of Interstate 70 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike, said Chris Bova, deputy director of the Westmoreland County Department of Planning and Development.
“It's a strategic location,” Bova said. “It's the gateway to Westmoreland County, and it's a heavily trafficked area with transportation networks coming together.”
Yet the real game-changer may happen in 2015 when a $50 million highway project widens I-70 from four to six lanes, relocates access ramps and eliminates an outdated design that debuted with the road in the 1950s.
The project is pivotal for the county because it improves access to “open spaces” available for development, Bova said.
“I think we're going to see a lot more businesses being interested in locating here. This is one of the best things that can happen to this borough,” Sistek said.
With the borough's roads deemed the busiest in the county, according to a study done for the nonprofit SmartGrowth Partnership, and more than 12,000 cars passing through the New Stanton turnpike interchange daily, PennDOT officials said the project is long overdue for the town that bills itself as the “Highway Hub of Western Pennsylvania.”
Not everyone is thrilled.
Some business owners worry the realigned ramps will direct potential patrons away from their doorsteps.
“We had a lot of people for it, and some don't like it,” said Mayor Nicholas DeSantis. “We can't stop it. It's going to happen.”
Just four square miles, New Stanton once was part of Hempfield Township but was incorporated when a group of business owners, foretelling good times to come, decided any tax windfall should remain in the community.
Back then, the borough was mostly farms, a couple of gas stations, a mom-and-pop motel or two and an iconic, orange-roofed Howard Johnson's that packed in the crowds with its Friday night all-you-can-eat fried clam special.
Center Avenue, the town's main drag, was a bumpy gravel path when Black was growing up, she said.
Times changed and, depending on the day and time of year, between 4,000 and 8,000 cars a day traverse Center Avenue, lined with drive- through eateries, chain hotels, convenience stores and banks.
Change crept in during the 1970s, when fast food caught on and McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken opened shop in the borough.
The biggest boost came in 1972, when UPS came to town. Today, UPS spokeswoman Laurie Mallis said, the shipping conglomerate employs nearly 2,000 people in its 50-acre distribution hub. Workers process more than a half-million packages daily, then dispatch them in the company's trademark brown trucks that whirl past Black's wedding chapel 24 hours a day.
Another win came when food distribution giant SuperValu expanded its operation at its mammoth facility. It employs more than 540 workers, said company spokesman Jeff Swanson.
How to grow?
The advent of change has been a source of anxiety for many in New Stanton, where population increased more than 14 percent since 2000, according to Census Bureau figures.
Stella Morgan, who owns TJ's Restaurant, came to town 40 years ago and wholeheartedly supports development.
Still, she worries that businesses like hers will suffer when the I-70 project begins.
“The state has assured me they don't want to put anybody out of business,” she said.
Some officials say the borough no longer can function as it did in decades past.
The tiny, white frame borough building on Center Ave-nue, donated to the town by Mellon Bank in 1975, is being replaced — but not without debate — by a $370,000 building.
A push to hire a professional manager to handle the complexities of the town's growth is divisive. Now, two secretaries, a public works officer and a full-time laborer handle day-to-day operations.
Sistek said that has to change.
“We need (a manager) to take possession of the whole borough,” he said.
There are those who say the current system is just fine.
“If seven people (members of council) can't run a 2,000-population borough with four employees, without having to hire a borough manager, (that) doesn't show much for your elected officials,” Councilman Tom Smith said.
Balancing the desires of those who want to move forward with the those who want things to remain the same is a constant struggle, said Councilwoman Linda Echard.
“New Stanton was a very rural community, and many of the people want to preserve that,” she said. “They're torn between wanting to preserve the past and step up to the future.”
John Turack, an economic and community development educator from Penn State Extension, said that because of New Stanton's prime location, it encounters pressure unknown to most towns its size.
“The question for the community is, what do they do with that opportunity for growth?” Turack said.
Regardless of what tack they take, it won't be easy, he predicted: “What we've found is that people don't like change that they don't have involvement in. Change is a lot easier to accept when you can control it.”
The challenge, Turack said, is developing a common vision of the town's future.
For Jim and Marge Fox, that vision is well-formed in their minds.
The Foxes, in their late 60s, have waited 15 years to sell the farm they lovingly tended until they physically no longer could do the work.
They think it's foolish to ignore the opportunity that New Stanton's growing economy and the I-70 project has laid at residents' doorsteps.
Looking past the silos and the green, rolling hills of his farm, Jim Fox gestures toward an open field and says, “Look out there. There's plenty of room for development.”
Kate Wilcox is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-6155 or firstname.lastname@example.org.