(Photos courtesy Mon Valley Initiative. Please see editor's notes at the end of this story.)
Local, county and state officials are excited about $3.3 million in combined investment in Clairton to remove blighted buildings, prepare residents for jobs, develop new resources for young people and senior citizens, attract food stores and other commercial activities, and generally improve quality of life.
The investment includes contributions from two large Pittsburgh corporations, tax credits and direct grants from Allegheny County and private foundations.
At a press conference on Friday, Clairton Mayor Rich Lattanzi said the city and its residents "have worked very hard for over 30 years to rebuild our community."
The city's first step was emerging in 2015 from state oversight under the Act 47 program for distressed communities, he said. "Today's announcement is a second step and a giant advance in building a healthy, safe and vibrant Clairton," Lattanzi said.
According to a press release from Brentwood-based Economic Development South, a non-profit agency, $3.3 million will be invested in Clairton over the next six years through corporate donations, Pennsylvania tax credits, the Allegheny County Community Infrastructure and Tourism Fund, or CITF, and direct real estate investment.
The program is being led by city officials in cooperation with EDS and the Jefferson Regional Foundation, a charitable giving arm spun off of Jefferson Hospital after its takeover by Highmark.
“We are pleased to support committed local leaders in partnership with key organizations," said Mary Phan-Gruber, executive director of the Jefferson Regional Foundation, in a prepared statement. "These are important opportunities to strengthen the Jefferson area through investing in Clairton’s growth. Clairton has an exciting story to tell which has already attracted many new commitments, and we see this as just the beginning."
Since 2013, a spokeswoman said, the Jefferson Regional Foundation has made grants totaling over $1 million into groups working in Clairton, providing funds for youth programs designed to encourage positive decision-making, improvements to the LifeSpan senior center, expanding food resources and equipping local residents to take leadership in revitalizing vacant land.
Corporate partners include BNY Mellon, which will provide $375,000 in funding each year for six years, and Highmark, which will provide $100,000 annually for six years. The funding, made under a neighborhood partnership program, or NPP, will provide those organizations with tax credits valued at 80 percent of their contributions, an EDS spokeswoman said in a statement.
The remainder will be counted as charitable donations.
HM Insurance Group, a Highmark company, will invest $600,000, with $480,000 in tax credits and $120,000 in charitable donations. Clairton will receive $475,000 annually.
Officials said the announcement on Friday was the culmination of a two-year community-driven process that engaged residents, churches, schools, social service organizations, municipal leaders, nonprofit organizations, the state Department of Community and Economic Development, and Allegheny County.
Although not all of the programs are finalized, participants in Friday's standing-room-only event at the Clairton Municipal Building said that key areas to be targeted include:
- Workforce development, or job-training and job-skills classes;
- Food security, or providing healthy options for food shopping in the city;
- Blight remediation and neighborhood beautification; and
- Development of new businesses.
One business is already committed. Enon, Ohio-based Speedway LLC has committed to developing a convenience store and gas station along Route 837 near Clairton Works, similar to one built a few years ago in McKeesport's East End.
Lattanzi credited state Sen. Jim Brewster of McKeesport and other local officials with helping attract Speedway to Clairton.
The station, expected to open in late summer 2017, will offer diesel fuel for surrounding businesses and industries, he said.
The project is a $4 million investment by Speedway that will bring up to 35 new jobs to the community, and the city is hoping to attract additional businesses on public-owned land adjacent to the Speedway location.
A key focus area includes an abandoned neighborhood near the Clairton-Glassport Bridge. The 52 lots along Lincoln Way, just off Route 837, include houses that have long been vacant and in several cases have burned in arson fires.
Clairton officials have spent five years getting control of the lots along Lincoln Way. Allegheny County will provide $125,000 in CITF funding to clear the area for new housing.
Site preparation will include asbestos abatement studies and removal, if necessary, as well as demolition and removal of old telephone poles and power lines.
No new housing has been developed in Clairton for at least 15 years, officials said.
“This is a new era for Clairton," Lattanzi said, calling the Lincoln Way housing and another private development underway "bricks-and-mortar demonstrations of our commitment to revitalize our community and
improve the quality of life for our residents."
Dennis Davin, director of the state Department of Community and Economic Development, said that strong communities "attract business development and spur even more revitalization.”
The state's Neighborhood Assistance Program and the state's approval of the six-year neighborhood partnership program, or NPP, is designed to encourage private investment in Clairton's future, he said.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald attended the event along with Tamara Dudukovich, senior community lending officer at BNY Mellon; Evan Frazier, senior vice president of community health for Highmark; and Clairton councilmembers Lee Lasich, Richard Ford, Denise Johnson and Raymond "Tony" Kurta, Council Member – Ward 1
The county is "proud" to have partnered with Clairton officials and Brewster's office, Fitzgerald said, and is looking forward to continuing the work over the next six years.
"Our success comes when we all work together," Fitzgerald said, who also thanked state officials, including Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, for "not only (listening) to what we have to say," but also welcoming "our input and vision."
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Editor's Note: This article was written entirely from a press release.
Conflict of Interest Alert: The editor of Tube City Almanac and executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc., Jason Togyer, is employed by Mon Valley Initiative, which will be partnering with Clairton and Economic Development South on the project described in this article. Opinions expressed at Tube City Online are those of individual authors and do not reflect those of Mon Valley Initiative or any other organization. Mon Valley Initiative does not exercise any editorial control at Tube City Community Media Inc. Photos and information supplied to Tube City Almanac also were provided freely to all other media outlets before publication of this story.
Originally published February 13, 2017.