More than 50 local residents showed up Sunday afternoon at the new Tamaqua Arts and Community Center to express their ideas and opnions concerning the use and future of the center. Located at the former Salem Evangelical Church, 125 Pine St., the center was purchased from the church by the Tamaqua Area Community Partnership, TACP, in November for $32,000. Other buildings are also on the property and are currently vacant.

Volunteers pointed out that they hope those properties will offer opportunity for rental income to offset operating costs of the center.

The three-level property, which dates back to the 1880's and includes its original layout, contains more than 2,700 square feet of community space, which will serve as an events venue, art studio, audio/video studio, banquet hall, classrooms and more.

"Our hope is to develop a center open to everyone, that could serve as a performance venue, art studio, instructional workshop and other similar creative uses," said Micah Gursky, Executive Director, TACP.

Prior to the community meeting, guests were provided a music show by Kathy Rimm and Jack Kulp, who have jointly volunteered numerous hours at the center. Tom Moroz, of Tamaqua and New York, who facilitated yesterday's community discussion, ran the "World Café" style meeting in a way that provided an open and creative conversation environment by rotating community members among discussion groups.

The group conversations evolved around special topics, such as goals, ideas and challenges. The collective knowledge of shared ideas and insights gave everyone a deeper understanding of the subject and the issues involved.

Talking about the benefits for local youth, Evie Welikow-Roberts of Tamaqua, said, "This center will provide an opportunity for community involvement, while developing skills and confidence in a safe environment."

Gursky mentioned that this new center was one of many comprehensive community development projects done by the TACP, such as Depot Square Park, Spirit of Christmas Festival, downtown Façade, Art Gallery, Main Street Program, South Ward Neighborhood Improvement Committee, downtown development and economic revitalization efforts, Tamaqua Safety Initiative and much more.

"We loaded two 40-yard dumpsters with garbage during the initial cleanup of the center and attached properties," added Gursky, as he talked about the ongoing efforts of so many dedicated community volunteers.

The TACP's website states the purpose of the TACP is to promote cooperation and community revitalization in the areas of recreation, downtown revitalization, historical preservation, tourist development, economic development, housing and neighborhood improvement and arts and culture.

"The TACP does a lot of things in the community and this is just one of the great things we do," said Gursky.

Some of the ideas brought up from residents consisted of theatre, snow day concerts, family art nights, audio/video studio, movie nights, film festival, scrapbooking, art show, club meetings, after-school tutoring, BINGO, teen dances, hall rentals, "garage band space," outside performers, interest groups, wifi hotspot, regular television broadcasts, holiday events, themed camps, listening house, comedy shows, exercise classes, gift shop, talent show, poetry and literature readings, art exhibits, karaoke, fundraisers, craft classes, video/gaming center, workshops, coffee shop, social and youth counseling and much more.

Volunteer George Taylor expressed his excitement concerning the ages, engagement level and wide array of community decisions of attending visitors during the meeting.

Some of the key challenges mentioned consisted of overhead expenses, fundraising, volunteer manpower, keeping the community informed, handicap accessibility, supervision, leadership, parking, marketing and scheduling.

Linda Yulanavage, executive director, Tamaqua Area Chamber of Commerce, said, "The center can act as a place for local music and entertainment groups to showcase their talents, without the overhead expense of a sound system."

"The center is good for everyone and will contribute to the betterment of our community," she added.

Volunteers pointed out that the main performance area likely would be the top level, with a secondary performance site at street level. Various smaller rooms potentially would serve as studios, offices, video centers or any similar capacity. The lowest level, partially below ground, potentially would host ceramics, sculpting, arts and crafts or dining events.

"This center will provide a great place for all local clubs, organizations and groups to come together and hold events," said volunteer Ann Marie Calabrese, Hometown.

Volunteer Rob Valentine said, "This new center is a gold mine for the community. We need to get the word out to all residents in and around Tamaqua."

Moroz, who was also a key sponsor in the project, expressed his enthusiasm for the response of the community, stating, "It was great to see that everyone stayed the entire two hours."

Gursky, who was recently hired part time with the TACP, pointed out that donations can always be made either by mail at: Tamaqua Area Community Partnership, 114 West Broad St., Tamaqua, PA 18252 or via their website www.TACP.info.

"Community involvement is essential for the success of this project. We hope lots of people will take an interest and continue to come out and share their ideas, as well as take part in the new center," added Gursky.