CONFLICT OF INTEREST NOTE: The author has a conflict of interest. See editor's note at the end of this story.
A roots-rock group called The Seams will perform May 24 at McKeesport's new amphitheater along the Youghiogheny River. The concert will kick off a new series of Friday night events designed to attract attention to the area around the bike trail, marina and Palisades. (Photo courtesy The Seams)
A new amphitheater at Gergely Park along the Youghiogheny River will be inaugurated with a series of Friday night concerts designed to get people excited about redeveloping McKeesport's waterfront.
The concerts, announced this week by Mayor Michael Cherepko's office, will include ethnic food trucks, barbecue, raffles, artists and door prizes, as well as a beer tent for ages 21 and over.
The series opens at 7 p.m. May 24 with a concert by The Seams, a roots-influenced rock band comprised of Mon Valley area natives. Admission will be free.
The events are being organized under the auspices of the McKees Point Development Group, a volunteer committee that has been studying ways to attract new businesses and investment to the area around the McKees Point Marina and the Great Allegheny Passage hiking-biking trail, starting with the abandoned Penn-McKee Hotel.
The long-vacant Penn-McKee was acquired by the city in 2014 after a protracted legal fight.
In March, the Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh completed a feasibility study examining possible re-uses for the building, as well as the cost of retrofitting it.
The study, which has not yet been made public, also includes recommendations for the area around the Penn-McKee.
The report will be released after city council has reviewed it, said Jennifer Vertullo, assistant to the mayor. In addition, it is expected to be discussed at council's June 2 meeting. The work session begins at 6:30 p.m., followed by the voting meeting.
"It's a positive report that shows that with funding, with supporters, with investors, this vision is possible," Vertullo said.
Vertullo is a member of the McKees Point Development Group, along with Angelia Christina of the McKeesport Housing Authority; Shaun Kennedy, owner of Barrier Protection Systems; Michele Matuch, retired executive director of the McKeesport Hospital Foundation; James R. Miller, an attorney and insurance broker with ties to the city; Mark O'Hern, CEO of UPMC East and UPMC McKeesport; A.J. Tedesco, the city's community development director; and Jason Togyer, executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc.
The waterfront effort is tied to Cherepko's "McKeesport Rising" initiative, an intensive program to demolish abandoned houses as well as make improvements to public safety, streets and recreation areas.
"McKeesport Rising" is being funded in part by the proceeds from the sale of the city's sewerage authority to Pennsylvania American Water Co.
"I've spoken on many occasions about how McKeesport Rising will affect city neighborhoods in terms of a reduction of blight and improvements to infrastructure," Cherepko said. "We are now seeing economic development interest in the Downtown area ... at the Tube City Center (former Daily News) and other buildings such as the People's Building."
The Penn-McKee is a "symbol of more to come," he said. "Hosting these activities at the marina and the amphitheater shows our commitment to revitalizing Downtown McKeesport."
Vertullo said the concerts are for "all ages," but organizers are particularly hoping to engage people in their 20s through their 40s, especially those with an interest in historic preservation.
"This is the first step, not the end of the process," she said.
Vertullo said the performers are designed to attract a younger crowd. They include Mark Rose of Spitalfield on June 7; The Armadillos, a folk-Americana group, on July 5; and country-pop band Buffalo Rose on Aug. 2.
All shows start at 7 p.m. and the events are "rain or shine," Vertullo said. Attendees should feel free to bring a blanket or lawn chair.
Water Street will be blocked off to car traffic between Fifth and Ninth avenues during the concerts, but free parking will be available near the McKees Point Marina and at the lots near the Palisades and the War Memorial, Vertullo said.
The amphitheater was reconstructed by Lutterman Excavating of Hempfield Twp. under a $62,600 contract, and paid for with federal Community Development Block Grant funding.
Jason Togyer is editor of The Tube City Almanac and volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST: The author is a member of the McKees Point Development Group, mentioned in this story. No one associated with the city or the group reviewed this article prior to publication and neither the city nor any employee has any editorial control over Tube City Almanac. This article was held until after the public release of the concert schedule to all media outlets.
Originally published May 10, 2019.