By Kaylee Lindenmuth | firstname.lastname@example.org
SHENANDOAH - Pennsylvania's Lieutenant Governor, John Fetterman, was in town Friday, meeting with Downtown Shenandoah, Inc., state, and local officials, and business leaders to learn about the revitalization organization's plans for an innovation and event center on North Main Street.
The meeting included Senator David Argall, Representative Neal Goodman, County Commissioner Gary Hess, staff from Representative Dan Meuser's office, as well as representatives from Ateeco and Penn State Schuylkill.
Fetterman likened Shenandoah to his western PA hometown of Braddock, Allegheny County, a steel town which had 20,000 residents in 1920, dwindling to nearly 2,000 at the most recent census. Fetterman served as mayor there, leading revitalization efforts.
"I understand great communities, that are still great, but they don't look like those pictures anymore," Fetterman said referring to historical photos on the walls of DSI's office. "My community had three movie theaters and 40 different restaurants, and, when I took over as mayor, we didn't even have an ATM in town. If our community can recover the way it has, any place can."
Karen Kenderdine, DSI's president, explained the history of DSI to Fetterman.
"It was a vision and a dream to bring this community back to life," said Kenderdine. She said the group formerly met at a nursing home in town, raising money until they became self-sustaining.
"We had this idea that we were going to acquire the property across the street [Davison's], and we did, and we wanted to build market price apartments," said Kenderdine. "Through PDC [Pennsylvania Downtown Center] helping us, and sitting many hours and talking, that was not the most appropriate path we could take, and that's how we came to where we are today with an innovation and entrepreneur center."
Kenderdine told Fetterman the organization, in total, needs $12.5 Million to make the facility a reality.
"We're not naive, we know we cannot recreate the past, that's not what we're trying to do. We're trying to create a bright new future for our communities," Kenderdine added.
Kenderdine then explained the layout and features of the center, explaining the research that went into each aspect of the center. She explained how they met with a young entrepreneurs group, asking what resources they need, and same for Penn State Schuylkill. Through discussions, the need for events space came up as well.
"We studied how others did it, and we talked to our future entrepreneurs, and we talked to our future entrepreneurs that may utilize it as to what they would need in a facility to get their business up and running and grow," said Kenderdine.
Fetterman noticed restaurant space in the plans, which reminded him of a restaurant incubator in western PA, Smallman Galley.
"It's an incubator for restaurants, and then they roll out and spawn other restaurants," said Fetterman. "Chefs use it to get their name out, to perfect their routine, and then many times they spin off and are able to open their own restaurants."
Fetterman then commended the group on their plans, saying "I love the fact that you're aiming big," and spoke of plans to renovate a 40,000 square foot furniture warehouse in Braddock, undertaken by his non-profit. Ironically, the planned innovation center in Shenandoah will fill a site formerly occupied by Davison's Furniture Store until the early 2000s.
"It's being renovated into artist lofts and workspaces," said Fetterman. "So, I get it, these projects are not cheap, but these projects are necessary to help move communities forward, so I fully support it and I get it. I think it's a great prospect."
Senator Argall asked Kenderdine to outline the next steps for the center.
"The next step is, we have to raise the money to have our actual architectural designs done. That's our very next step," said Kenderdine. She added that DSI is looking to create a separate 501(c)3 for the innovation center, and has hired a marketing website designer and a grantwriter.
Julie Fitzpatrick, from the Pennsylvania Downtown Center, emphasized the importance of the project spurring more development, rather than being a stand-alone project.
"This is not about demolition, this is ideally about rehabilitation," said Fitzpatrick.
Fetterman and the group then toured the site of the proposed center.
"I know, first-hand, that these are the kinds of projects that can help move a community, that's lost so much, into the right direction," Fetterman said.
After the meeting, Argall gave Fetterman what he described as a "historical artifact."
"We talked about Braddock, we talked about Shenandoah," said Argall. "I have a historical artifact for you to take back to Braddock, from 1930."
Argall handed the lieutenant governor a letter from 1930, postmarked Braddock, with a hand-cancellation from Argall's grandfather's brother, the then-postmaster.
NEWS FROM YOUR TOWN
-East Union Township
-North Union Township
-West Mahanoy Township
-Beyond Northern Schuylkill