Gov. Corbett Announces Redevelopment Grant For Former Saks Site, Oliver Building

Trinity Epsicopal with its neighbors, the Oliv...

Trinity Epsicopal with its neighbors, the Oliver Building and the old Gimbels (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Surrounded by an array of Pittsburgh civic and development interests, Gov. Tom Corbett stood in Mellon Square Monday to announce a $4 million state grant to seed the redevelopment of the Henry W. Oliver Building and its neighbor, the former Saks Fifth Avenue department store.

Mr. Corbett told a small crowd overlooking the planned developments that the Henry W. Oliver Building had special interest for him because he had worked in an office there during his career in private practice before joining the U.S. attorney’s office for the Western District of Pennsylvania. Noting that he had been in the city last week to release state funds for a theater project for Point Park University, Mr. Corbett called Pittsburgh, “a model for redevelopment and smart growth.”

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/local/city/2014/09/29/Governor-Corbett-announced-redevelopment-grant-for-Downtown-Pittsburgh/stories/201409290199

Reading Visitors Bureau Celebrates 50th Anniversary

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Berks County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Berks County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In April 1963, a group of forward-looking business and civic leaders organized the Reading-Berks County Pennsylvania Dutch Travel Association.

The region’s rich history and cultural heritage, they believed, could draw tourists whose dollars would strengthen the region’s economy.

The association has undergone several name changes and had several homes, but 50 years, later the founders’ vision still guides the Greater Reading Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“It’s still our history, art, architecture and the sheer beauty of our region that attracts visitors,” association president Crystal A. Seitz said Monday.  “Tourism touches everybody’s life in Berks County.”

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=511449

Funds Sought To Restore Wilkes-Barre Irem Temple

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

WILKES-BARRE – The 107-year-old Irem Temple building, a historic landmark on North Franklin Street, once was Wilkes-Barre‘s primary public performance venue.

Today, the once-grand building has fallen into disrepair and has no heat, lights or electricity.  But city and chamber officials are trying to save it.

During a tour by flashlight Wednesday, Ross Macarty, vice president of community development, real estate and special projects for the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry, showed that water damage has taken a toll on the deteriorating building and thieves have stolen copper and brass inside over the past two months.

The Greater Wilkes-Barre Development Corp., an arm of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry, bought the building in 2005 for $992,000, using a combination of federal, state and chamber funds.  The chamber and city are seeking $2.4 million in state gaming funds to bring the building up to code and return it to use.

Read more:  http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/business/funds-sought-to-restore-wilkes-barre-irem-temple-1.1434055

Philadelphia, Suburbs Emerge From Sandy

English: This is my own work, Public Domain Ph...

English: This is my own work, Public Domain Photograph, not copyrighted Ed Yakovich http://www.flickr.com/photos/10396190@N04 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The scene at the corner of Chelten and Wissahickon avenues in Philadelphia said it all: A blue mountain bike, badly mangled and turned upside down, but still somehow tethered to a bicycle rack.

The city and its suburbs emerged shaken but largely intact Tuesday morning, after taking a night’s beating from Sandy’s high winds and rain. Some people remained in shelters, but waterways were receding in certain areas, and many residents were coming outside to survey the damage and take a deep breath of relief.

Travel remained challenging, with downed power lines and trees closing streets. SEPTA began resuming services at noon, hoping to bring the system to full strength piece by piece. Shopping malls planned to reopen Tuesday, though an estimated 1.2 million were without power across Pennsylvania.

A Peco spokesperson said total outages for Southeastern Pennsylvania reached more than 800,000 at the height of the storm, shattering previous records, and as of Tuesday morning 585,000 were without service. Restoration could take days.

Read more: http://www.philly.com/philly/news/20121030_Philadelphia__suburbs_emerge_from_Sandy.html

2 Artists Seek To Restore Damaged Dove In Reading City Park

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsyl...

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsylvania area. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Editor’s note:  One of the benefits of arts revitalization!

On a bright summer day in a nearly deserted park, two men stand in the shadow of a crumbling statue.

Pointing at the flaking, cracked concrete and graffiti that cover the dove sculpture in City Park, they recoil in disgust.

“Look at this,” said artist Yesid Gomez. “This is an embarrassment. Whose fault is this? It is our fault for letting it look like this.”

Gomez and his cousin, Wilfer Buitrago, examine the statue, taking measurements and noting the damage that it has sustained over the years.  Shaking their heads, they said they feel ashamed to see the dove in such poor condition.

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=406658

Scranton: Northeast Pennsylvania’s Economic Growth Engine (Part Two)

(Continued from yesterday’s Part I below)

I asked Mayor Doherty if the population decline in Scranton was a concern and was he focused on trying to reverse it.  The mayor said the population is growing and becoming more diverse.  There are now two dozen languages being spoken in the Scranton School District and over 70 ESL teachers.  When the mayor took office ten years ago there was one ESL teacher in the school district.  I recently read that the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre metropolitan area is the least diverse of any metropolitan area in the United States over 500,000 people.  It would seem this may be changing.

We talked about the significance of what having a medical college and possibly a law school would mean for Scranton.  Bringing in and retaining college educated people will help stop the “brain drain” and grow a population with more disposable income.  This in turn fosters economic development and reduces crime.  Medical schools and law schools bring a certain amount of prestige to any city lucky enough to have one.  Perception is a hard thing to change.  These types of accomplishments will tangibly demonstrate that Scranton is not a rust-belt, blue-collar, post-industrial casualty.  Instead, Scranton has pulled itself up by its bootstraps and seeks to reclaim her proud heritage and rightful place as an economic powerhouse in Pennsylvania.

With a new governor in Pennsylvania things will most likely change.  Ed Rendell was a friend to Scranton and poured $140 million into the city for economic development.  Governor Corbett is still an unknown, only just taking office.  Many who received funding from Rendell are worried that money might be harder to come by under Corbett.  The good news from Scranton is private sector funding for economic development has reached a level that will sustain Scranton in the event that money from Harrisburg dries up.

One of Mayor Doherty’s mottos is “invest in yourself”.  Two examples of this are the restoration of the municipal building lobby and fixing the broken “Scranton The Electric City” sign that is perched atop on of the city’s taller buildings (pictured above).  The mayor feels strongly about the message neglect, disrepair, messy, dirty and cluttered can send to residents and visitors.  The first-floor lobby area in the historic Municipal Building was cluttered with soda/snack machines and was in need of a major spruce up.  The mayor did just that.  (While I was waiting outside the mayor’s office, I took a picture of the lobby because it was so impressive – see Part I photos).   The “Scranton The Electric City” sign had been broken for decades.  Now the sign lights up every night and makes a positive statement about the Scranton of the present, while honoring the city’s past accomplishments.

Having frequent events is an important tool Scranton uses to promote itself, attract tourists and prospective residents.  Scranton has a huge list of events like First Night, St. Patrick’s Day Festival (3rd largest in the U.S. and draws 150,000 people), La Festa Italiana (draws another 150,000 people), Komen for the Cure (10,000 people), Steamtown Marathon (2,500 people), Scranton Jazz Festival and the Pages and Places Book Festival.  These events are helping to make Scranton a “destination”.

My last question to Mayor Doherty was “What has been your greatest challenge?”  His answer was “changing the way people think”.  People need to believe that things are possible instead of falling into the “it can’t be done here”, “it will never work”, “we can’t afford it”, “we never did it that way before” and the litany of excuses to maintain the status quo.  The status quo is why Scranton hit bottom and had 22 empty building in its downtown. 

Mayor Doherty has a vision for Scranton and is undeterred by criticism and negativity.  Nor is he content to rest on his laurels.  He always has future projects on the back burner and showed me some of them while we walked.  The mayor is taking the revitalization of Scranton one project, one building at a time. 

I will share one last thing Mayor Doherty said to me, which is important to always remember.  These things take time.  It took seven years to get to the Connell Building project completed.  Construction took less than one year.  All the planning, committees, red tape etc… took six years.  Rome was not built in a day and neither will Scranton (or any other city) be magically revitalized.  The mayor has accomplished all these things over ten years.  It takes a dedicated team of people to make all this happen.  It also takes someone like Chris Doherty to lead the team with a positive, can-do attitude, a never give up mentality and most of all a healthy dose of patience.

The Electric City has a bright future and is poised to again become one of Pennsylvania’s most vibrant and important cities.