By Kaylee Lindenmuth
MAHANOY CITY - Several state and local officials were on hand for a groundbreaking ceremony for Kaier's Playground, at the site of the former Kaier Brewery on Mahanoy City's north side.
The park, funded through grants from the Department of Community and Economic Development, Commonwealth Financing Authority, and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, will feature play structures for ages 2-5 and ages 5-12, picnic tables, a picnic pavilion, park benches, and more.
The project falls under the Brownfields to Playfields program, a joint effort between DCNR, DEP, and DCED to "restore and repurpose brownfields, abandoned mine lands, and other damaged lands for recreation and conservation purposes."
Jim Rhoades, project engineer with Alfred Benesch & Co., noted that, like other coal region communities, Mahanoy City struggles fighting blight.
"This property was vacant for 50 years, plus or minus, and became a hazard to people crossing, vehicles, and it finally got to a point where the borough reached out to our local representatives, Representative Neal Goodman and Senator Dave Argall, and asked 'How can we fix this, how can we get that building down and do something good?'" said Rhoades.
Grants received in recent years funded the demolition of the towering structure, which sat abandoned since the 1968 closure of the brewery.
The demolition began in March of 2017, though the process was expedited after the building began to list. Fears of the building's collapse led to the shutdown of the surrounding neighborhood north of the railroad, and a 100-foot crane was brought in to demolish the building.
Following Rhoades, Senator Dave Argall spoke, noting that demolishing blight is only the first step.
"As Representative Goodman could attest, in so many projects across the county, demolition is very important, but our question is always 'what do you do afterwards?' and here, in this community, they came up with a very, very effective solution," said Argall. "This phase of the project, which we celebrate today, is centered around the creation of a community park, which will be used not only by our local residents, but by the children who attend the head start program literally right across the street."
"I want to commend the borough for their proactive stance against blight," added Argall.
Representative Goodman, Mahanoy City, noted that demolishing the building and redeveloping the land had been tossed around for years, though no effective plan had ever come about.
"When I was on borough council, it was one of our top priorities," said Goodman. "We actually had a developer come in one time, that was going to raze the building, and put in a senior living facility, but everybody that looked at the building was afraid of it. It was so big, they don't build them like that anymore, and everybody was afraid of it."
Goodman added that timing was a key factor in getting the project done, in that grant programs existed and entities cooperated. He also extended thanks to the Girard Estate.
"I'd like to point out today that Girard Estates really did step up to the plate. They had some buildings on the property, which cost them some serious money to knock down, and when we told them that we were going to knock the building down and build a community playground, Roy Green, a representative from Girard Estates, was all-in," added Goodman.
"Someday, I hope to be able to bring my grandchildren up here to enjoy this park," concluded Goodman.
Lauren Imgrund, from DCNR, noted that "this playground is going to join the ranks of Pennsylvania's 6,000 local parks and 121 state parks that make Pennsylvania such a great place to live, work, and play."
Michael D. Bedrin, DEP, commended the borough for its plans to develop the park.
"Mahanoy City, you should stand up and take a bow for your plans to develop the Kaier's playground," said Bedrin. "It's a shining example of brownfields redevelopment, and we applaud you."
"You're enthusiasm for the project is awesome, and I hope it's contagious and will spur similar projects in neighboring communities," Bedrin added.
Rhoades then added that the project received an additional grant, from PennDOT, for $68,000 to install ADA-compliant crosswalks and ramps to improve the crossing between the park and Child Development.
He then provided a shout-out to the two who's equipment sat behind the podium.
"They can't wait to get digging," said Rhoades.
Borough council president Thom Maziekas then thanked those involved in the project before delivering what he termed as a "short and sweet" address.
"If we all work together, we can really get something done," said Maziekas. "Washington should take heed to what we're doing right here."
Council vice president Francis Burke then outlined the history of the brewery.
"Charles D. Kaier Company opened at this location in 1862, a year before Mahanoy City was incorporated as a borough. It was founded by Charles D. Kaier when he was 24 years old," said Burke. "At its peak, Kaier's sold over 200,000 barrels of beer in the 1940s. At that time, they produced double the volume of Yuengling, and was only behind Stegmaier's from Wilkes-Barre."
"In 1950, Kaier's was awarded the star of excellence award in the Brussels, Belgium beer contest, as the best beer in North America, but those days are gone," added Burke. "While it would've been great to keep the brewery and its use as an anchor for commercial development, the building was blighted and it needed to be removed. But now, instead of an empty lot with overgrown grass and litter, we'll have a great playground, with a pavilion that could be used by residents of all ages."
Burke added that additional equipment will be added in future phases of the program, as additional grant funding is received.
"As we continue to implement our financial recovery under Act 47, we're convinced that fighting blighted properties and implementing projects like this one will help us put a spark in our residents and our great town," said Burke. "My hopes are that this park and other improvements within the borough will allow us to keep the residents we have and make it more attractive for residents in the borough."
Burke then produced a Kaier's bottle, before concluding his speech.
To date, the playground project has received $660,000 in grant funding, including two Keystone Communities grants, a Community Development Block Grant, a Greenways, Trails, and Recreation grant, a DCNR Keystone grant, and a PennDOT Automated Red Light Enforcement grant.
Full photo gallery upcoming.