Arconic, community volunteers create park in New Kensington
At the corner of Fifth Avenue and Eighth Street in downtown New Kensington, there used to be a theater where Jenny Nolen saw movies for a quarter.
Nolen, 94, said she remembers when that intersection was the place for young men to bring young women, each having secured permission for courtship from the parents of the other, to take in the latest motion picture at the Liberty Theater.
Now, decades after the Liberty showed its last movie, the lot where it stood has become the latest recipient of efforts to revitalize the city.
The lot, most recently a dilapidated bocce ball court, now is known as the Corner Courtyard.
The small park has been installed through the efforts of volunteers, and as part of Penn State New Kensington's partnership with the city to establish a Corridor of Innovation on Fifth Avenue. Organizers wanted to complete the courtyard before Saturday's New Kensington Corridor of Innovation Art & Music Festival in the area.
More than 20 employees from the Arconic Technology Center off Seventh Street Road were joined by residents, members of city government and volunteers from Penn State New Kensington in August to transform the site from a weed-filled garden to a manicured space designed by landscape architect and New Kensington Councilman Dante Cicconi.
“Our city is grateful to Penn State New Kensington, Arconic engineers and the Arconic Foundation for their commitment to the betterment of our community,” Cicconi said.
The park, which sits on city property, was funded partially by the Community Foundation of Westmoreland County and Penn State New Kensington.
The foundation awarded Penn State New Kensington a grant of $35,000 for 2017, designated for predefined projects to improve the five-block area of Fifth Avenue designated as the Corridor of Innovation.
The park is part of that initiative, which is tied to an entrepreneurial center that Penn State expects to open later this year on Fifth Avenue. The Corridor of Innovation runs from the 700 to 1100 blocks of Fifth Avenue.
“The New Kensington Recreation Commission and city council identified vacant lots on thoroughfares of our city to rehabilitate. With the help of Arconic and New Kensington residents, we transformed an unused space into a beautiful green space and park for everyone to enjoy,” Cicconi said.
Samantha Stephens, one of the Arconic volunteers, said her company sees the Corridor of Innovation as an opportunity to attract talent to its New Kensington research and development wing.
Alcoa, once a major employer in the area, split late last year into two businesses: Alcoa continues to produce aluminum, and Arconic develops aluminum and other advanced metal parts for airplanes and vehicles.
“The reason we are so interested is that the history of Arconic is founded in New Kensington. We want to make sure the city is as vibrant as it has been and help it get back to that point,” she said.
Mayor Tom Guzzo said New Kensington and Alcoa have existed as a team, and the Corner Courtyard is designed to demonstrate that partnership.
“We want to acknowledge the part that they played in the history of New Kensington,” Guzzo said.
Penn State New Kensington previously joined with the city and the Community Foundation of Westmoreland County to provide building owners with $1,000 in grant funds for use toward facade improvements. Murals also have been installed.
Gary Astor's janitorial supply business, Quality Assured Merchandise, is adjacent to the park, and he used some of the funds to fix the facade of his business. He said the work being done downtown is making a difference.
“It's a huge improvement. It really cleans the place up,” he said.
Nolen said she couldn't believe the transformation. “It went from zero to a hundred. I'm happy people are trying to make this a better place for our families,” she said.
Autumn Walker, owner of the Apothecary Soap Co. on Fifth Avenue, said the park already is working.
“I was walking by the other day and saw a mom with her kids playing on the rocks in the park. It's nice to see the community out and enjoying the city,” she said.