After 15 years of revitalization work, the Tamaqua Area Community Partnership is ready to graduate to future projects.
The Partnership held its annual meeting Thursday evening at the Lisa Jane Scheller Student Center on the campus of Lehigh Carbon Community College's Morgan Center in Tamaqua and took the opportunity to look back at what has been accomplished, as well as what lies ahead.
Formed in 1994, TACP, originally known as the Tamaqua Area 2004 Partnership, began as an initiative that combined volunteer efforts with the private sector and local government to work towards improving the quality of life in Tamaqua and surrounding communities.
The Partnership had its origins when one local businessman, Ted Block, owner of Charles X. Block's Men's Store, approached then State Representative David Argall one snowy day regarding what could be done to improve things in the Tamaqua area.
Tamaqua Area 2004 sought public input and crafted a 10-Year Plan that led to the formation of task forces to work on downtown revitalization, economic development, historic preservation and tourism and recreation.
Those initial efforts, fueled by support from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania and the obtaining of state funding, led to successful spin-off groups such as Downtown Tamaqua, Inc., which oversees Tamaqua Main Street program; the Eastern Schuylkill Recreation Commission; and Tamaqua's Elm Street program, a residential counterpart to downtown develipment.
"The Tamaqua Area Community Partnership has passed Community Revitalization 101 with flying colors," said Argall, now State Senator for Pennsylvania's 29th District, as he addressed the crowd of 40 gathered at the Scheller Center.
"To give this Partnership anything less that a solid A would be academic malpractice. You have earned such a good grade that other communities hope to learn from us."
Argall pointed to many positive developments in the area since the Partnership formed. Some, such as 72 facade projects in the downtown, the formation of ESRC and the installation of historic markers, were direct result of TACP's handiwork. Others, such as the refurbished 1874 Tamaqua train station, the addition of an LCCC campus, and projects such as The Salvation Army Community Center and the new Tamaqua YMCA, happened during the same time span and added to the community's forward progress.
Pat Freeh Stefanek, TACP Chairperson, noted the Scheller Center itself was a project in which the Partnership assisted, purchasing the former South Ward Fire Company building and leasing it to LCCC to convert into a student center.
"So much has been accomplished due to the efforts of those in this room," said Jerry Knowles, newly-elected State Representative for the 124th District, the position held by Argall until the latter's election to the State Senate this year.
Knowles acknowledged that those efforts are recognized by others outside the area that he has met during his own travels.
"The part you really can't measure is the Wow factor," added Argall. "There's been a lot of people, a lot of dreams and hard work from volunteer organizations, businesses, local government. It's a true public and private partnership."
Argall, however, noted it is time for that partnership to move forward.
"I'm not just here to pat you on the back, but to sign you up for an advanced course, Revitalization 501, in these times of economic stress," he said.
Argall said there are three lessons TACP must take to heart: the need to do more; the need for even more support by the private sector due to budget cutbacks in Harrisburg; and that money is important, but so is the people factor.
"I hope we can come up with some more talent and fresh blood," added Argall. "Your time will be well served."
Micah Gursky, Tamaqua Council president and treasurer for TACP, mentioned that the Partnership's Strategic Plan was redone in July, 2008 along the five pillars of a Sustainable Community, according to the federal Rural LISC program.
Those pillars include: stimulating economic activity, locally and regionally; improving access to quality education; developing, preserving and investing in the physical environment; fostering a livable, safe and healthy environments; and increasing family income and health.
Gursky related a number of future projects, including the second phase of an upper floor marketing study for the downtown area; the next phase of the Streetscape improvement program on Broad Street; the construction of a new community headquarters in the South Ward; developing an atmosphere favorable for artists and manufacturers to locate here; student housing for LCCC; a Riverwalk for the Little Schuylkill River; and the installation of security cameras in the borough's downtown.