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Making Investments in Today for a Better Tomorrow

Erie’s Midtown is the New Hot Spot

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Economic Resilience In Erie

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APRIL 2012

Community Resilience Shines Through Collaboration

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economic sustainability for communities Contributed by Mayor Joseph Sinnott When discussing economic viability and resiliency in a community, the financial health of the core municipality is paramount to regional growth. As we have seen across Pennsylvania, communities facing on-going financial distress experience a costly burden on both the residents and businesses within their cities. These burdens manifest themselves in stagnant job growth and the long term impairment of economic development.

If we borrow or refinance existing debt, we can do so at more attractive interest rates and at lesser administrative costs than our previous, lower rating would permit. In assigning this rating, the agency cited increased confidence in the City’s credit worthiness, strong financial management, good budgeting practices, and increased financial reserves as positive factors.

In January of 2006, Erie was faced with this type of financial dilemma and unsettling outlook. Tens of millions of dollars in budget reserves had been exhausted, the current operating deficit totaled nearly seven million dollars and our bond rating was such that the financial markets considered our bonds a speculative investment. Imagine, bond rating agencies were advising that an investment in Erie was a gamble! My first act as mayor was to implement a top to bottom plan to redesign the City’s operations: from street paving to public safety. My goal was to create a city government that would maximize efficiency and minimize cost and still deliver a high level of service to the taxpayer. The result: an operation 25% smaller, more efficient in performing expected services; an economic development program flexibly designed to maximize future growth and development opportunities; and, a budget document that is used as a financial tool rather than a political gimmick. Another important goal in turning around our finances was to upgrade our bond rating. We have succeeded. In February of 2012, the rating agency Standard and Poors upgraded the City to A-, a designation which both recognizes our bonds as investment grade and reflects our City’s sound financial stability. The upgrade also brings with it a number of other positive opportunities. It enhances our ability to borrow money if need be; because, financial markets no longer consider us a poor credit risk.

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Board of Directors Peter Balmert John J. Barber Donald L. Birx John Bloomstine Carl M. Carlotti, Esq. Terrence Cavanaugh Rosanne Cheeseman Gary L. Clark Joel Deuterman Mary L. Eckert Scott Eighmy Barbara Haggerty Thomas C. Hoffman, II Timothy Hunter Thomas M. Kennedy Charles G. Knight John P. Leemhuis, Jr. John T. Malone James W. Martin, CFRE

James E. Martin Marlene D. Mosco Jack A. Munch James W. Riley James Rutkowski Jr. Matthew Schultz Nick Scott Jr. Gretchen Seth John E. Skory Ronald A. Steele Keith Taylor, Ph.D. David M. Tullio Russell S. Warner, Esq. Michael Weber Thomas J. Wedzik Scott A. Whalen, Ph.D. Jason Wieczorek

President/CEO Barbara C. Chaffee

Vice President, Chamber Claudia K. Thornburg

Vice President, Economic Development Jacob A. Rouch

Staff

They also paid favorable comment to our remarkable turnaround because it occurred in a financial climate where other cities, faced with similar circumstances, failed or are now contemplating municipal bankruptcy as a remedy. Our success has formed the basis for an organization devoted to combating financial distress, the statewide Communities in Crisis Task Force. The Task Force has adopted the practices developed here in Erie and seeks legislation in Harrisburg and Washington for those issues where we need their help. I am proud that this organization uses Erie as a blue print for attaining municipal financial health. As we move forward, we will continue to develop creative ways to manage our government efficiently and as affordably as possible. And at the same time, maintain our vision of fostering a vibrant quality of life for all citizens in the Erie region. www.erie.pa.us

Joelyn J. Bush, Director of Marketing & Communications Melanie A. Johnson, Erie Business Action Team Coordinator Doug M. Massey, Workforce Development Coordinator-Training Cathy Noble, Events Coordinator Leslie Orlando, Account Executive Benjamin C. Pratt, Director of Research Linda Robbins, Financial Officer Susan M. Ronto, Membership Coordinator

Editor Joelyn J. Bush

Contributing Writers Susan Weiner Cory Vaillancourt John Chacona

Photo Contributors R.Frank Photography

Design Bensur Creative Marketing Group For Advertising Information: Leslie Orlando, Account Executive (814) 454-7191 x 139 lorlando@eriepa.com


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Making Investments in Today for a Better Tomorrow | April 2012

what’s inside 11

Making Investments in Today

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New Investors

19-21 Community Resilience Shines Through Community Resilience

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after hours We look forward to seeing you at these networking events for Chamber investors.

May 17th 11-14 Making Investments in Today for a Better Tomorrow

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Collaboration

27-29 Erie’s Midtown is the New Hot Spot

5:00 – 7:00 p.m. HANDS 701 State Street Erie, PA

June 7th 5:00 – 7:00 p.m. The Brewerie at Union Station 123 West 14th Street Erie, PA

July 12th 5:00 – 7:00 p.m. CAT-TV 142 West 12th Street Erie, PA

The New Hot Spot

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Please RSVP to the Chamber at (814) 454-7191 x 146 or cnoble@eriepa.com


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welcome new investors BRONZE INVESTOR

Welcome Bronze Investors Fabriweld LLC Welding, fabricating, equipment refurbishing, erection and design, building of specialized industrial equipment. Over 80 years combined experience in design, build and installation of manufacturing equipment for a wide variety of applications. Michael Grudzien 119 East 26th Street | Erie, PA 16504 (814) 490-7324 | www.fabriweldllc.com

Aire Serv of Southwestern NY Offers World Class Frontline Service for service and repair of residential and commercial heating and cooling systems. Trained technicians perform above the line work on furnaces, boilers, water heaters, radiant heating systems, and all types of air conditioning. Mr. John Goldberg 7264 Clymer Center Road | Panama, NY 14767 (716) 782‑2199 | www.swnewyork.aireserv.com

PROUD INVESTOR

Welcome Proud Investors Animal Ark Pet Hospital We have two locations, Animal Ark at 3024 West 12th Street and Animal Kingdom at 2222 East 38th Street. They are both full service animal hospitals committed to providing high quality medicine with compassion. We provide complete medical and surgical care as necessary during the lifetime of your pet. Ms. Diane Beebe 3024 West 12th Street | Erie, PA 16505‑3837 | (814) 838‑7387 www.animalarkkingdom.com enKompas Technology Solutions Erie’s only Accredited Managed Services Provider, provides Proactive 24/7/365 Network Monitoring and Help Desk Support. enKompas’s unique tool sets allow organizations to control IT costs, increase efficiency and centralize all aspects of Network assurance in a one stop approach. Mr. Craig Allison 1001 State Street | Erie, PA 16501 | (814) 969‑8806 www.enkompas.com Erie Commerce LLC Redevelopers primarily working on former Steris Facility. Redevelopment will focus on medical, office, educational type campus. Mr. Darrell Bossert 2424 West 23rd Street | Erie, PA 16506 | (440) 539-4160

Executive Personal Fitness Caters to the individuals who want a personal touch without having the crowd of a major gym. An appointment only approach enables the most personal touch to your fitness needs. Mr. John Walker 1416 Liberty Street | Erie, PA 16502 | (814) 874‑5000 www.executivepersonalfitness.com First Step Counseling Provides quality outpatient therapy services to individuals, couples and families living in and around the Erie area. Ms. Jennifer A Young 1611 Peach Street | Erie, PA 16501 | (814) 871‑6681 www.firststepc.com The Insurance Buyers Union Provides insurance shopping and research for members. Mr. Ron Harden 1001 State Street, Suite 1400 | Erie, PA 16501 (814) 480-5755 | www.theibu.org Kneib Dentistry With over 30 years of experience, Kneib Dentistry provides more comprehensive, high quality dentistry managed through technology and individual care. Accepting new patients. Dr. Robert Kneib 3325 West 26th Street | Erie, PA 16506 | (814) 838‑6354 www.kneibdentistry.com

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Le Royal Flowers & More Flower Shop, special occasion embellishments.

Mid American Natural Resources, LLC Founded in 1982, one of the oldest gas and electric marketing firms in the region. Supplies lower cost gas and electric to over 200 industrial/commercial/institutional customers in Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio. With Mid American, all your energy needs are covered!

Morgan Stanley Smith Barney Dedicated to serving investors worldwide. Offers tailored solutions designed to help you manage your long-term wealth as well as customized investment solutions and services for individuals of substantial means, families and foundations. Mr. Brian Praetzel 230 West 6th Street | Erie, PA 16507 (814) 454-8222 www.morganstanleyindividual.com The Ophelia Project A non-profit organization which serves to empower your long-term systemic social change. Dedicated to creating safe social climates. Ms. Misty O’Connor 718 Nevada Drive | Erie, PA 16505 (814) 456-5437 | www.opheliaproject.org

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Mr. Brian Hickey 2501 Palermo Drive | Erie, PA 16506 (814) 455-2761 www.manrenergy.com

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Mr. Bassam Dabbah 2430 West 8th Street | Erie, PA 16505 | (814) 520‑8309

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Perseus House Inc. A 501 (c) (3) social service agency with eight residential facilities for court-ordered juveniles. Provides several community based programs to serve youth who need assistance with school or before they require residential placement. A. Mark Amendola 1511 Peach Street | Erie, PA 16501 | (814) 480‑5900 www.perseushouse.org Presque Isle Partnership The organization works to improve the environment and educate the public on the value of the park’s delicate ecosystem. Has raised funds for a variety of enhancement projects at Presque Isle. All the energy of the Partnership is focused on making Presque Isle State Park the best park it can be, to make your experience at Presque Isle the most enjoyable. Mr. Steve McDermott 301 Peninsula Drive, Suite 2 | Erie, PA 16505 | (814) 838‑5138 www.discoverpi.com Scalise Experiential Marketing Specializing in planning, design and production of custom exhibits for trade shows and marketing events. From small to large exhibits, domestic and international events, Scalise always strives to deliver an engaging customer experience. Mr. Doug Scalise 123 Irwin Drive | Erie, PA 16505 | (814) 454-6368 www.scalise.co Stitch It Custom embroidery. Mr. Ekram Osman 5800 Peach Street | Millcreek Mall Unit #9017K Erie, PA 16565 | (814) 868‑2983


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New Investors continued Yochim Skiba & Nash Law Firm. Mr. Gary Skiba 345 W 6th Street Erie, PA 16507 | (814) 454‑6345 www.skibaandowen.com

Quantum Balance Erie A unique addition to Erie’s downtown, providing integrated, holistic wellness options for people who suffer anything from chronic pain, stress, spiritual issues or just need a nonjudgmental listening ear. Ms. Lois Thompson is a certified life coach and Quantum touch practitioner who creates an individualized plan to provide relief and relaxation.

Costa Financial Services Wealth Management and Financial Planning Services. Specializing in retirement accommodation and lump sum rollover strategies and estate and insurance planning.

Ms. Lois Thompson 126 West 9th Street | Erie, PA 16501 | (814) 431‑3367 www.quantumbalance.vpweb.com

Mr. David L. Costa CFP 127 West 6th Street | Erie, PA 16507 (814) 833‑3360

Tim Hortons Quick service restaurant.

Gohrs On Demand Full service printing company specializing in on demand printing services and fulfillment services.

Mr. Brian Schibler 209 East 12th Street | Erie, PA 16503 | (814) 874‑3000 www.timhortons.com

Mr. Ken Menale 1107 Hess Avenue | Erie, PA 16503 (814) 392‑3454 | www.gohrs.com Lake Erie Notary Service Full service notary, and will travel as well. Open 9:00 a.m. ‑ 2:00 p.m. and by appointment. Ms. Kristina Moyer 1612 West Grandview Boulevard Erie, PA 16509 | (814) 573‑3869 www.lakeerienotary.com Nautilus Fitness Center Offering a newly renovated facility. A balanced approach to fitness integrates cardio, resistance, and flexibility to give you total body conditioning, group fitness, babysitting, indoor pool, hot tub, sauna, indoor track, and a private women’s only facility! No excuses! Mr. RJ Sibayan 2312 West 15th Street | Erie, PA 16505 (814) 459‑3033 | www.nautilusfitness.com R.Frank Photography Wedding, commercial, sport, events and engagement photography. Mr. Rob Frank 4320 Miller Avenue | Erie, PA 16509 (814) 520‑3985 www.rfrankphotography.com

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Photo Courtesy of R.Frank Photography

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Making Investments in Today for a Better Tomorrow From a plan for citywide public schools to a change for an individual business – how investing in the state’s fourth largest city can produce rewards

| By Susan Weiner

Erie School District Seeking rewards for students and community Superintendent Jay Badams can see it now – children going to schools that are aesthetically attractive, physically safe, functioning efficiently, equipped with up-to-date educational resources, brightly lit and housing programs that are second to none in the region. The Erie Public Schools started on the road to fulfilling this vision with a feasibility study by McKissick Associates of Harrisburg. The study details the condition of each school in the District which, at worst, includes dangerous sidewalks, poor lighting, leaking roofs and inadequate labs. The study will outline decisions to be made about how many and which of the schools to keep open, how to configure grade levels, how to equip classrooms and how to use buildings beyond the school day and school year. The community will have the opportunity for input into these decisions and formulation of an Optimization Plan through public meetings and an advisory group of stakeholders.

“Erie is an incredibly resilient community; but I believe that rather than simply surviving adversity, we need to move our community forward.” But the plan is about more than the buildings themselves. “The buildings represent a difference in resources available to teachers and students in individual schools,” Badams said.

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“The plan is needed in order to provide equity in the physical facilities and educational resources available to all students and teachers in the District and to achieve parity with other schools in the area and the state.” Implementation of a comprehensive plan will not only benefit students and teachers right away but will also have far-reaching benefits for the City of Erie and Erie County beyond the jobs the project will generate. Badams, who is vice chair of the Growth Partnership Committee, gave three examples:

• By preparing students for real jobs available in the local economy, including those currently difficult to fill, like welders.

• By encouraging moves into the city, as quality schools and programs are on a par with property values in deciding where to live or locate a business.

• By providing the diversity many employers are looking for in their workplaces. Children from diverse backgrounds and countries are educated in public schools equipped with the labs, workspaces and instructional materials necessary for quality learning.

The cost of realizing this vision could be more than $100 million. Badams will take his case to legislators in Harrisburg over the next several months, but any state reimbursement will cover only a fraction of the cost. “We’ll need a creative public/private partnership,” Badams said. “That’s why we selected LP Ciminelli, which pioneered this type of partnership in Niagara Falls and Buffalo and brought about enabling state legislation in New York for school renovation

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Photo Courtesy of City of Erie School District projects.” Ciminelli’s Niagara Falls and Buffalo projects were accomplished with no additional local tax levy. “I’ve seen high quality educational resources in communities that aren’t much richer than ours,” he continued. “I feel that our community deserves top-notch schools. Seventy-seven percent of our students are eligible for free and reduced cost lunches. If education is the way out of multigenerational poverty, then poverty is perpetuated if kids are forced to attend schools that are sub-par.”

“There are advantages to being located in the city, and we want to see Erie thrive and prosper.”

“Putting a comprehensive plan into motion by investing funds, embracing change and believing in the vision on the part of the community will enable significant improvement in student achievement as it provides what’s needed to move to a higher level of learning,” Badams said.

“We had outgrown the plant, and we knew if we were going to stay in the business, we would need to have food safety designed into a new production facility,” said Mike Weber, president of Smith’s and ERCGP Board of Directors member. “We’ve never had a recall and want to maintain our record.”

“Erie is an incredibly resilient community; but I believe that rather than simply surviving adversity, we need to move our community forward,” he said. “The investment in Erie city public schools required from all the stakeholders will be significant and with a longer maturity, but there will be a big return.”

A commitment to the family business, its product and the consumers who love it led the Webers on a search for a suitable property. They found exactly what they needed right in the City of Erie. The former OEM Plastics property on the 1900 block of West 20th Street met their needs for size and for accessibility of a high level of water and sewer service for meat production.

Smith Provision – Already seeing rewards When Smith Provision, a Silver level investor with the ERCGP, began experiencing fairly rapid growth over the past few years – enhanced by online and retail sales outside the Erie area – the third generation owners, Mike and John Weber, knew it was time for a move.

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The $8 million project began with a visit to Economic Development Division of the ERCGP. “Jake Rouch’s staff pointed us in the right direction to navigate all the government entities we had to work with. Having one point of contact saved us a lot of time and effort and perhaps some false starts,” Weber said.

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article continued. The Erie County Economic Development Corporation provided a loan from the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority. The City of Erie provided financing from its revolving loan fund. The City also approved Smith Provision for the Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance (LERTA) tax abatement program, which excuses the company from paying taxes on the improvements to the West 20th Street property for a period of 10 years.

The Webers’ long time bank, First National, moved quickly on the financing, and the city Zoning Department expedited the process for permits. This was important: because of seasonal production needs, the only time of year Smith’s could move was a three-week window from late January to early February. Mostly local contractors worked on the project – including Building Systems Inc., NEWCO Electric Company, Lindsey Refrigeration and the Wilkins Company – who also ensured the necessary completion date. Smith’s new location essentially uses the shell of the original building to enclose a sophisticated production facility designed for safe product and efficient production flow. The plant houses new equipment for cooking, quick-chilling and smoking. Smith’s more than doubled the production space and has the capacity to expand – to make more product, to add more products and, if and when the time comes, to move the administrative offices to the new site. Tied in to increased production is a job creation component to the PIDA loan – a goal of 18 new jobs within 3 years. Five have already been created. “Based on our experience, I would encourage other businesses to locate here in Erie,” Weber said. “There are advantages to being located in the city, and we want to see Erie thrive and prosper.”

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Celebration of Excellence Thursday, April 12, 2012 from 5:00-8:00 pm

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The Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership congratulates the

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Congratulations 2012 Louis J. Tullio

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Award Recipient: Senator Jane Earll 2012 Athena速PowerLink

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Printing Concepts, Inc.

Excelling in more than just fabulous color. Contact PCI for more info QR Code

Ask us about “green” printing! 4982 PACIFIC AVENUE ERIE, PENNSYLVANIA 16506

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814-833-8080 800-540-7805

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Community Resilience Shines Through Collaboration

| By Cory Vaillancourt

“Resiliency” is a funny word. In Erie, resiliency conjures up images of a resolute, redoubled effort to hang on, despite the fickle folly of an oft-unpredictable economic situation. Resiliency also implies a lack of ascent, or rather, a Herculean effort to simply maintain a basic order; in Erie, we know that this couldn’t be further from the truth – Erie’s resiliency is not just a struggle to desperately maintain a tenuous grasp of the cliff’s edge, it is also an opportunity to summit a seemingly insurmountable peak that now appears closer than ever: through partnerships, collaborations, investments in new businesses, property improvements, and future development plans, two community organizations in Erie know that resiliency leads to revitalization, like a hanging from a cliff leads to planting a flag. “To be resilient is to be steadfast in a vision that takes you from today to where you want to be,” said Chuck Scalise, president of the Housing and Neighborhood Development Service (HANDS), a silver level investor with the ERCGP. “I see Erie as an evolving community that is re-inventing itself. We are recognizing the value of our natural resources and regional assets and understanding that we are a great community and need to promote what is good and fix those things that are not.” According to their website, the organization has been “committed to making stronger and more vibrant neighborhoods in partnership with the communities it serves through the development and management of quality affordable housing” for over 40 years. “The management team at HANDS sees ourselves as being leaders and partners within the City of Erie and our region,” said Scalise. “We have,

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over the years, provided significant support to the City of Erie and other non-profit developers to revitalize and renew neighborhoods.” A perfect example of HANDS’ contribution to the revitalization of Erie is the manner in which they have planted their flag in Erie’s “Little Italy” neighborhood. “HANDS first became involved in the Little Italy neighborhood through a demonstration program called the Targeted Housing Impact Area funded through the Erie Community Foundation (a diamond level investor with the ERCGP),” Scalise said. “This program provided matching grants to property owners to do physical improvements to ‘jump start’ neighborhood revitalization.” Scalise cites these improvements as contributing to the neighborhood, overcoming negative images and positioning itself as a “neighborhood of choice.”

“To be resilient is to be steadfast in a vision that takes you from today to where you want to be.” Rose Graham also believes that Little Italy is poised for revitalization. In her role as executive director at the Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network (SSJNN), she points to a plethora of their programs that transform resilience into

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revitalization by transforming bricks and mortar into neighborhoods and communities. In October 2011 the SSJNN was approved to receive Neighborhood Partnership Program Tax Credits based on their efforts in creating partnerships for Little Italy revitalization. As part of this program three local companies, Eriez Magnetics (an investor with the ERCGP), Northwest Savings Bank (a gold level investor with the ERCGP) and Saint Vincent Health System (a platinum level investor with the ERCGP), have committed to donating $50,000 per year for five years for a total of $750,000 to make positive changes in Little Italy. Furthermore, in November 2011 the agency was approved for Neighborhood Assistance Program tax credits recruiting donations from Berry Plastics, Marquette Savings Bank (a gold level investor with the ERCGP), Erie Insurance (a platinum level investor with the ERCGP) and Mayer Brothers Construction.

Before Photos Courtesy of SSJNN

In perhaps their most visible initiative, SSJNN’s “Clean Up Green Up” plan carries out graffiti eradication, promotes street art programs, and facilitates neighborhood landscaping projects. The large community garden on the 400 block of West 18th Street is a testament to their mission of revitalization. “The community garden project provides a wonderful opportunity to mobilize neighbors,” said Graham. The garden contributes to neighborhood revitalization by “providing sources for healthy nutritious food and teaching gardening practices that can be carried over to their own personal property. It is a wonderful green activity for adults and children alike.”

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So successful is the community garden project that SSJNN recently announced plans to create a second garden on 18th and Walnut Streets in partnership with the Trinity Center. “Last year we doubled the SSJNN garden boxes in the existing community garden located on the 400 block of West 18th Street,” said Graham. Throughout the year we offer not only garden opportunities but also nutrition education and meal preparation using the produce grown in the garden.” Graham thinks that these gardens are not only feeding people, but are also “opportunities for the neighbors and community to come together in celebration of Little Italy.”

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Like flapping banners on the summit of a distant peak, the Housing and Neighborhood Development Service and the Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network are visible and kinetic examples of how resiliency becomes revitalization. In Little Italy, as well as across Erie, organizations like these as well as people like Chuck Scalise and Rose Graham demonstrate that Erie is not just digging fingernails into fragile soil below the acme, but rather steadfastly exploring the zenith.

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Bethesda Trinity Center Bethesda Community Place, an investor with the ERCGP, located in the Little Italy neighborhood of downtown Erie is considered one of the City’s oldest community centers. Established in 1922 as an outgrowth of the community-oriented ministry of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church located on West 17th Street in Erie, Pennsylvania, Bethesda Community Place was originally named Trinity Center to reflect its Lutheran beginnings. In 1996 Bethesda Children’s Home, Lutheran Social Services merged with the Trinity Center ministry in order to provide long term financial support and the leadership of a well-established nonprofit agency. Since that time, Bethesda Community Place has continued to utilize the Trinity Center name as a program of Bethesda Community Place however the Center in Erie has blossomed into a full service solution for the community offering a continuum of programs and services. Trinity Center is now a program of Bethesda Children’s Home that provides Drug and Alcohol Prevention Programs, After School and Summer Programs with an emphasis on education. All programs offered at the Trinity Center are provided free of charge, and open to children in the Erie Community. Programs offered through the Trinity Center include: • Behavioral Health Rehabilitation Services • Therapeutic Support Staff • On-site psychological and psychiatric evaluations • After School Programs (ages 5-12 years old) • Summer Recreation Program (ages 5-12 years old) • Kids Café offering hot meals after school and throughout the summer • Tutoring during the school year • Drug & Alcohol Prevention Programs (“In My House” & “Project Alert”) • Adolescent Health Rhythms (drumming circles) • Computer Literacy & Internet Access • Arts & Crafts • Recreation (dance, sports, table games, martial arts) • Educational Field Trips • Reading Program • Family Nights (Family dinners, movie nights, football games) • Guest Speakers • End of Summer Celebration • Leadership Development Programs • Youth Drop-In Center • Career Readiness

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Erie’s Midtown is the New Hot Spot

Like a stack of poker chips on the table, six townhomes rise from a block in Erie’s midtown district that had been largely vacant for many years. They represent a wager of sorts, a high-stakes bet on the future of the local economy, and in a larger sense, of a society that is rapidly changing. The townhomes are the brainchild of Fourth River Development LLC, a Pittsburgh company formed in 2006 that was commissioned by the Erie Redevelopment Authority to oversee the transformation of a six-block area surrounding Griswold Plaza. The townhomes may represent the most daring aspect of the plan, namely, the creation of an upscale residential community in the heart of a downtown that has been steadily depopulated for decades. “We did the research, but we also did the first phase [of the project] to smoke out what the buyer profile might be like,” said Schneider, a Fourth River principal. It’s an approach Schneider tried in Washington’s Landing, a mixed-use project in Pittsburgh that includes 88 townhomes on a 142-acre island in the Allegheny River. “The first ones we sold were to single women, entry level units. So, seven houses in the scheme of things should be doable. Then we’re looking at what we do next. [Griswold] Park is a little gem, and now that we’ve improved it, and with the infrastructure improvements to slow the traffic, we’ll see. And where’s our competition?” The easy answer is: in the suburbs. There, single-family detached homes on large tracts of land with lower property tax rates than the city beckon. But they don’t beckon everyone and that is a key to the project’s success. “Not everyone, maybe not even a majority, but a significant part of the population wants housing choices,” Schneider asserts, and choice is what Fourth River aims to supply.

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| By John Chacona

“People say, we’re not going to get families with kids, but we get 50% [of our sales from] families with kids, because they want a new house, [but] they don’t want a big lot to take care of. They want to be close to their jobs and have the time to be involved in their kids’ lives.”

“Our purchase was a pioneering effort, a leap of faith.” The revitalization of the Griswold Plaza area accelerated with the purchase as a headquarters building of Erie’s historic Union Station by Logistics Plus, a Silver level investor with the ERCGP. “Lucky Patton was peddling this building, and thought the spirit of our company fit the spirit of this building,” said the company’s founder, Jim Berlin. “He said, ‘You’re a special company and this is a special place. You’re a transportation company and this is a budding area in Erie.’ I’m a sucker for that stuff.” He is also a native New Yorker who grew up with the excitement of living in a city with a pulsating urban core. For Berlin, the transaction was an investment in more than mere real estate. “We’re almost a $100 million company, but in the field of logistics, we’re a small player. Yet as we’re seen around the world, what a great image this [building] is as a global headquarters, and you can’t quantify the benefit of that. Our purchase was a pioneering effort, a leap of faith. It wasn’t done for that reason, but I think people thought: These guys know what they’re doing, and hopefully it made people follow suit.”

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People did just that. The most notable is Erie attorney Andrew Sissini, who purchased the post office building that sits across Griswold Plaza from Union Station. For Sissini, as for Berlin, the building had an emotional dimension. “I had seen a for sale sign in front of it, and I thought there was no way this is for sale,” Sissini remembers. “Ultimately, I wanted to be part of that whole resurgence of bringing things into town rather than in the suburbs. I saw the midtown project, knew about the Tullio Center revitalization, and I thought if I could get in on that it would be great.” Sissini has renovated parts of the building not occupied by the Postal Service (which left as a tenant at the end of March) and created some of the city’s most unusual office space. Around 40 people are employed in the building with Sissini’s plans calling for nearly 60 more when the project is completed. Conventional urban planning wisdom holds that a resident population—more specifically, persuading people to live in the center city—is a necessary precondition for successful development. But the flight of businesses from downtown has been as large a trend as the population decline has been. So the decision of businesses such as Mazany Contract Interiors, an investor with the ERCGP, to locate there is important. Ron Mazany founded his company in Jamestown in 1982 (coincidentally, the same year Berlin arrived there from New York City). Erie was a larger market in which he desired a foothold, and he placed that foot, as it were, in the western wing of the Union Station building. “We met with the Chamber and the economic development people in Erie. They spent the whole day with us and drove us around . . . and this was one of the areas that they drove us by. Jim showed us through his building and that’s what got us going in this particular spot. We’ve got a lot of good things happening in Erie.” And more seem to be on the way.

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April 2012 Erie Magazine  

The April issue of ERIE Magazine is a Special Edition published in conjunction with our annual Celebration of Excellence Signature Event. Th...