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'Stimulus' panel has big ideas for Kittanning

Renatta Signorini
| Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011

At least $2 million will be spent sprucing up the county seat's business district in a sort of "stimulus" plan for the borough that is in the early stages.

"We all get a chance to voice an opinion on what the money should be used for," said Lisa Stolitza, a member of a committee charged with developing plans for a streetscape beautification plan. "The money has to go to benefit Downtown Kittanning."

The committee was formed last week to solicit ideas and feedback from the community through public meetings that will be incorporated into the final product. The county's Industrial Development Council will hear recommendations from the committee before deciding which projects to tackle.

The committee consists of representatives from the Board of County Commissioners, the IDC, Downtown Kittanning Inc., Rosebud Mining Co., F&M Bank and state Sen. Don White, R-Indiana. Stolitza, who is representing DKI, said the committee formed last week and brainstormed some ideas.

"We want to make Kittanning a destination point," she said. "It's exciting, there's a good group of people."

A public meeting to gather ideas and feedback from community members has not been scheduled, but is in the works for early March. The funding was secured in 2008 by the county in the form of a $1.5 million grant through White's office.

According to a news release from the IDC, $500,000 of that money was spent to prepare the former Armstrong Campus of Indiana University of Pennsylvania for redevelopment. A senior-citizen housing complex -- Kittanning Cottages -- is being constructed on the land.

The remaining $1 million must be matched by local funds and be used to improve public property and the environment surrounding structures.

"It has to be matched 50-50," said Mike Coonley, county economic development director. "The stronger the business district, the stronger the entire community."

Independent consultant Maureen Ford has been retained for project management and to help lead the efforts, Coonley said.

Ford will assist the committee in identifying the project and bidding out the various tasks, she said, and could possibly see the idea through to completion if her contract is extended. She is with Celtic Cove Consulting in Pittsburgh.

The borough is being represented on the committee by council President Gerald Shuster, who said he hopes to see utilities in the business district moved underground to eliminate telephone poles and wires. Decorative lighting and greenery also could be part of the committee's goal to "improve the aesthetic and physical appearance of Market Street."

He hopes the revitalization will spread throughout the business district to building owners interested in improving their properties. However, there are no final plans.

"Nothing is set in stone right now. We're awaiting ideas," he said.

A landscape architectural firm has been authorized to develop a rendering "to show the community what the possibilities are," Shuster said.

"I think it will improve dramatically," he said of downtown, adding that private investors are already interested in matching the grant. "I think it's long overdue. It's a great project for Kittanning."

In a news release, White said he hoped the revitalization efforts will become a "catalyst for future downtown redevelopment."

"I am pleased the funding secured is being used for the intended purpose -- to advance projects in an effort to revitalize Kittanning Borough," he said.

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