A Lansford revitalization group got the chance on Monday to visit neighboring Tamaqua and view some of the projects developed there by that borough's community partnership through affiliated and independent efforts.
Members of Lansford Alive joined fellow redevelopment organization, the Tamaqua Area Community Partnership, and related groups in visiting sites, including the refurbished train station and the Lehigh Carbon Community College's Morgan Center, while riding in a trolley provided by Mermon Motors.
The purpose was for Lansford Alive to see what Tamaqua has done and learn if any of it can be translated to its Carbon County community just six miles away.
Hosting the visit on the Tamaqua end were state Sen. David Argall (R-29); Micah Gursky, council president; Dale Freudenberger, president of the Tamaqua Historical Society; Serge Chrush, president of the Tamaqua Area Chamber of Commerce; Linda Yulanavage, Tamaqua Area Chamber executive director and Main Street Manager; Kathy Kunkel, Elm Street manager, and her husband Harold, a volunteer with the South Ward Neighborhood Committee.
Members of Lansford Alive who came along for the tour included officers Mark Sverchek, president; Steve Brunda, vice president; Martha Rex, treasurer; and Rose Mary Cannon, secretary; as well as Dave Benevy, Bill Harleman, Renee Slakoper, Lenny Kovatch and the Revs. John and Marjorie Keiter.
Freudenberger said many of the projects undertaken by the Tamaqua Area Community Partnership, originally known as the Tamaqua Area 2004 Partnership, started on a small scale, such as collecting $100 to purchase a historic marker from the State Department of Corrections. The partnership's historic preservation and tourism task force later installed more markers at historic sites.
"Take it one step at a time," said Freudenberger. "Don't get discouraged. This is all about breathing life into a small town. We still have our issues here, but we don't have the same kinds of issues we did."
"It's important to put what you want to do on a list, because the number of things to be done is huge," said Gursky.
Tamaqua Area 2004 came up with a 10-year plan and divided its efforts into task forces as it targeted a number of areas to improve the quality of life in the borough and surrounding area.
"Flexibility is a key," said Argall, as the group stood in the restored 1874 train station, a $1 million project which was undertaken by Tamaqua SOS (Save Our Station), a volunteer organization that banded together for its cause: to save the then-burned out station from the wrecking ball.
Freudenberger said lack of funding need not be an initial deterrent.
"Every one of these projects started with no money and no plan, every one of them," he stressed. "There's always reasons not to do things."
Having the vision and focusing resources can produce results. Gursky noted that resources were focused on the Five Points Intersection of Routes 209 and 309, the heart of the borough, with initiatives such as Depot Square Park and private development of properties such as the Flat Iron Building with help of the Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) tax abatement program.
"We focused resources on the main intersection to maximize the impact," said Gursky. "You want to put yourself in position to be ready for opportunities."
Argall noted that serendipity can play a role, as it did with Depot Square Park, which involved a rare land swap transaction between the Hess Gas company and the borough.
"If you work hard, sometimes you get lucky," said Argall.
As the group rode up Broad Street, the borough's $2.6 million Streetscape improvement program was discussed, as well as the borough's involvement in the State Main Street program, which has helped refurbish 76 properties; the Elm Street program, the residential counterpart to Main Street; and Blueprint Communities.
The trolley rode into the borough's South Ward, where the playground is a target for revitalization; to the LCCC Morgan Center, once the site of the former Tamaqua Junior High School; to the Willing Skate and Bike Park; to Hazle Street, where a former shoe factory has been converted into apartments; and back to Broad Street, past the Daniel Shepp House, an Eastlake Victorian mansion that TACP helped save from the wrecking ball by working with Bethany E.C. Church.
Not every project has been a success; Gursky noted the former Moose Lodge at E. Broad and Pine Streets, which remained empty after a potential developer pulled out.
Asked what she learned from the tour that might benefit Lansford, Cannon said, "The first thing we must do is come up with a list and focus on one project at a time. We are also hoping that more volunteers become more involved in the community. You need that support."
"They managed to get a lot done here by partnerships between and cooperation between organizations, the community and the borough," said Sverchek.
"You need a vision," added Rev. Marjorie Keiter. "They also didn't let the naysayers stop them. They kept on going."
Yulanavage noted that development groups often share their ideas of what can be successful and that what works in one community can also happen in another.
Redevelopment is something that doesn't happen overnight.
"One thing you have is time," said Gursky. "Lansford will be here 10 years from now. You are not going to be a ghost town."