Vision shared of a changing city
Michael Edwards, president of the Connellsville Cultural Trust and executive director of the Connellsville Redevelopment Authority, shared a vision of a changing city with the Connellsville Business and Professional Women.
Edwards co-founded the Cultural Trust in 2006, the year of Connellsville's bicentennial, with twin goals of improving the quality of life through promoting history and the arts. The trust is working to restore the former armory as a community event venue and museum and to restore the auditorium at the community center.
Work on history and public art has begun.
The trust installed an 11-stop Heritage Trail throughout the city, which begins at Stewart's Crossing and ends at Falcon Stadium and the Olympic oak John Woodruff brought back from the Berlin Olympics. Illustrated signs tell the story of Connellsville's rich history. Last summer, Steps to a Healthier PA--Fayette, sponsored a walk that covered half the two-mile trail.
"We'd like to start at the other end and cover the rest of the trail this summer," Edwards said.
Two public art pieces were installed in September. Residents voted on their favorites from submitted proposals. One is a 14-foot arch with stained glass from Youghiogheny Glass and coal embedded in its base at the north entrance of town on the Yough River Trail. The second portrays the four seasons on three silos at Youghiogheny Glass at the south end of the trail.
"For Connellsville's centennial, the H.C. Frick Co. built an arch of coke at the corner of Pittsburgh Street and Crawford Avenue," Edwards said. "That was the inspiration for the arch. We would like to continue that public art program as small parcels of land become available."
In order to continue sponsoring projects, the Cultural Trust is selling postcards depicting historical Connellsville locations for $1 each. They are available at the redevelopment authority office on West Crawford Avenue.
A group of five college graduates are staying in town as part of the Student Conservation Association, a three-year program in which they will conduct energy and waste audits of businesses, talk to school children about environmental issues, and help develop community gardens, among other services. They are based at the redevelopment authority office.
The trust and the redevelopment authority are collaborating on a state Main Street Program, to improve downtown. In several months, the state will notify the redevelopment authority if it has received $250,000, which will be paid out during five years.
The Main Street Program required a community match of $125,000. Connellsville exceeded that requirement, with $137,000 in donations and pledges. Edwards said he has approached foundations and the Fay-Penn Economic Development Council for funding "in case the state doesn't approve the grant. Projects will start taking place in Connellsville."
One grant that Connellsville will receive is a federal Community Development Block Grant, which will likely be about $300,000 and possibly more. City council chooses the projects and the redevelopment authority distributes the funds, which benefit low- and moderate-income residents.
Edwards said the redevelopment authority sponsors a first-time home buyers program, for anyone who has not owned a home for at least three years. The program provides up to $20,000, with $10,000 forgiven at $1,000 per year. The other $10,000 has to be paid back when the homeowner dies or sells the house. He added that PNC Bank has a First Front Door Program that can provide an additional amount, up to $5,000.
Other work includes the multimunicipal plan, with Connellsville, South Connellsville and Connellsville Township. The report will be final in the spring and will include zoning, planning and core revitalization of the communities.
Part of revitalization will consist of keeping tourists in town. The Yough River Trail is part of the Great Allegheny Passage, a 330-mile path from Pittsburgh to Washington. One of Connellsville's weaknesses is a lack of lodging.
"There are 67 rooms in Confluence people in 14 homes have made open as bed and breakfasts. If a retired person would be interested in turning some rooms into a bed and breakfast, they would get extra income. If they (visitors) stay here, they'll spend more money," Edwards said.
Edwards stressed that changes are taking place and all the projects involve cooperation. "Partnerships, that's what it's all about."
The Connellsville BPW also stresses the importance of cooperation and networking. In addition to Edwards, Bobbi Dobbler, District 12 director, and Patricia Carter, first assistant director of the district, attended Monday's meeting.
District 12, which encompasses Fayette, Washington and Fayette counties has 190 members, but new members are always welcome.
The BPW provides college scholarships and works to encourage legislation to better the lives of women. All women are welcome to join, as well as men who support the BPW's values. Services include a Young Careerist Program for people from 21 to 35 years old, as well as an Individual Development Program for women of all ages. Dobbler said the Individual Development Program helps women learn how to ask for raises, seek promotions, speak in public and other skills vital for success.
In addition to development programs and chances to network with others, membership brings discounts on Geico Insurance, among other benefits.
"All women are working women," Dobbler said. "There is a mistaken belief that you have to have a career to be a member, but any woman and any man who shares our values can join."
The BPW started in 1918, the Connellsville chapter is 77 years old.
Members meet at 6 p.m. for networking on the first Monday of each month at Nancy's Tea Room and Catering, North Pittsburgh Street, followed by dinner and a meeting at 6:30 p.m. The meetings regularly feature guest speakers and an opportunity to learn about legislative issues affecting women.
For more information, call Ruth Walters at 724-628-7186.