State Senator David Argall (R-29) often points out that it is partnerships that have created the framework on which Tamaqua's revitalization efforts have been built.
The Tamaqua Area 2004 Parnership, now known as the Tamaqua Area Community Partnership, galvanized the efforts of volunteers to help improve the quality of life for residents of the borough and its surrounding townships.
From that initiative grew intermunicipal organizations such as the Eastern Schuylkill Recreation Commission, community development groups such as Downtown Tamaqua, Inc., and projects on which businesses, government officials and residents could successfully partner.
Argall, along with Linda Yulanavage, executive director of the Tamaqua Area Chamber of Commerce, spoke to students about the transformations that can take place in a community when dedicated individuals partner together during a presentation called The Power of Partnerships, presented Thursday at the Morgan Center of Lehigh Carbon Community College, Tamaqua.
The students, from school districts throughout Schuylkill County, were participating in a program called Generation Next, which is sponsored by Schuylkill County's VISION and the Schuylkill Chamber of Commerce.
"The program started last year as an attempt to get students thinking and educate them about the county," said Lori Kane of the Schuylkill Chamber Foundation. "This year, we are looking at ideas. We had a program about conservation at Sweet Arrow Lake. We are planning to do programs about art in Schuylkill Haven and economic development at the High Ridge Industrial Park."
Argall noted many revitalization projects are sparked by people who have vision for their communities and ideas of what they want to see accomplished.
"It all started with volunteers who showed up at meetings to connect the dots," Argall said.
Argall gave examples of such efforts that involved partnerships, such as bringing Lehigh Carbon Community College to Tamaqua; the refurbishing of Tamaqua train station, which had been burned out and was ready for demolition; and the creation of Depot Square Park at the borough's Five Points intersection, on the spot where a Hess gas station once stood.
Yulanavage, in addition to her work with the chamber, has also been Tamaqua's Main Street Manager since 1999, which is a state-funded community development program that has focused its efforts on the borough's downtown business district with initiatives such as facade improvements for over 70 buildings.
"The downtown is the cover of the book for Tamaqua," stated Yulanavage, who at one time was an elected official, serving on Tamaqua Council, as well as a business owner on Broad Street.
While many of the changes made may seem superficial, they are important. Argall recalled a doctor being recruited by Miners Memorial Hospital who turned down the offer after the physican and his wife drove through what appeared to them to be a blighted community.
Yulanavage recalled the borough receiving a letter that stated Tamaqua was the dirtiest place the writer had ever seen. From that insult grew the Tamaqua Beautification Association, a group of volunteers who worked to beautify the borough, most visibly through the planting of memorial trees.
"The last three years there has been over $2 million invested in the downtown for a new streetscape," Yulanavage noted. "Over 8 million has been invested in the central business district in both public and private money. Since 1999, there have been over 100 new jobs created in the downtown, which employs 700."
A lot of effort has gone into developing parking in the downtown, including a parking garage, the creation of spaces on South Railroad Street and the addition of a lot on Route 309. "We've created over 80 off street parking spaces," Yulanavage said. "We've also been able to recruit new businesses, such as Subway."
Those efforts have kept Tamaqua from being "stuck in the 80's," she added.
"Just as blight is contagious, so is revitalization," related Argall.
Both Argall and Yulanavage urged the students to share their ideas for improving their communities and to get involved.
"Make sure you are willing to give something back," said Yulanavage. "We need you to come out and make it happen. It is important that you get involved."
Kane noted her involvement with TACP and the Tamaqua Business and Professional Woman's Club actually led to her taking her position with the Schuylkill Chamber. Part of her volunteer effort was working to organize Tamaqua's annual Spirit of Christmas festival.
Tamaqua Area High School teacher Steve Ulicny noted that students are already involved in their communities in ways such as playing on their local school's football teams and marching with their bands in parades. "Little things can go a long way," he said.
"I like the ideas I've heard," said Justin Huegel, a senior at Marian Catholic High School, Hometown. "I see that a lot of people are involved, not just 1-2 people heading a committee."
Huegel said he would like to see Tamaqua's efforts extended beyond the downtown. "We need to focus not just on the downtown but extend the streetscape to the other wards," he explained.
Geoff Sincavage, a Tamaqua High senior, wanted to see more of a retro look with the downtown. "I'd like to see the old-time look come back."