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Grant to fuel projects in New Kensington, Vandergrift

| Friday, Sept. 26, 2003

The federal government on Thursday released about $500,000 to help finance economic-development projects in New Kensington and Vandergrift, according to U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Johnstown.

The Economic Development Initiative funds, which come through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, will be used in New Kensington for downtown industrial and retail development, and in Vandergrift for the rehabilitation and improvement of a public pool.

According to a statement from Murtha's office, New Kensington was given about $270,000, and Vandergrift, about $225,000.

Most of the money headed to New Kensington will be used in the development along Fifth Avenue behind the post office. City officials plan to clear the land -- about 6 acres -- within a year and bring in light industry to fill two or three smaller parcels.

The project, which has been in the works since the mid-1990s, involves razing a residential neighborhood of about 50 houses. Residents in the area interviewed last year said they had no qualms about being forced out.

The city, which started sending formal 90-day eviction notices in July, is obligated to give the homeowners fair market value for their property. The city has acquired more than half of the houses, according to Kim McAfoose, redevelopment authority executive director.

"Congressman Murtha's award of the EDI grant will enable New Kensington to complete this project and create jobs," McAfoose said.

McAfoose expects that more than two dozen jobs will be created because of the project.

"We don't want to bring in minimum-wage jobs," she said. "We're targeting something better than that."

"We're not just going to take the first thing that comes down the pipe," McAfoose added. "We're going to investigate everything that's out there."

Whatever money isn't used behind the post office will be pumped into development in the heart of the downtown, where McAfoose said the city could clear more land to make way for anything from more light industry to retail.

"We're hoping that we can purchase some more properties in the heart of the city and make their configuration a little more compatible with some of the ideas people have about what they want their business to look like," McAfoose said.

McAfoose said that many of the vacant buildings in the heart of the downtown need razed because they are too small for what business owners are looking for.

In Vandergrift, the money will be used to rehabilitate the Joseph A. Petrarca Swimming Pool, a formerly private pool handed over to the borough a few years ago.

"It's turning around tremendously," Councilman Jeff Zinchini said about the pool, which had been in disrepair. "Now we're getting people from outside the community to come in."

Zinchini said his expectation for the pool is that it will become a moneymaker for the borough, which plans to use the grant money to also create a park around the pool and a new kiddie pool play area.

"It's the only entity for the borough to make money with and provide a place of recreation for the community," Zinchini said.

Zinchini said construction at the pool won't begin until after the 2004 swimming season because the borough doesn't want to rush the project.

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