Tamaqua a 'swing town' for revitalization efforts
JOE PLASKO/TIMES NEWS Joseph A. Yarzebinski (left) of Rural LISC presents the "Swing Town" Award to Tamaqua Area Community Partnership Chairperson Patricia Freeh Stefanek for TACP's revitalization efforts. The award was presented Thursday evening during the Partnership's annual meeting at the Scheller Center of Lehigh Carbon Community College.
In the process of revitalizing a community, the pendelum can swing back and forth, depending on the success of the efforts.
Since 1994, the Tamaqua Area Community Partnership has worked to swing that pendulum in favor of improving the quality of life for residents of its region.
The partnership held its annual meeting and cocktail party Thursday evening at the Scheller Center on the campus of Lehigh Carbon Community College's Morgan Center in Tamaqua's South Ward, itself a testament to the revitalization work in the borough.
With an audience of about 40, the partnership reviewed its projects and other accomplishments over the past year.
"We've been making great strides in revitalization," said Patricia Freeh Stefanek, TACP chairperson. "We want to continue to make Tamaqua a great place to work, live and play."
Micah Gursky, president of Tamaqua council and the partnership's treasurer, ran a power point presentation of highlights from TACP's initiatives. He noted Tamaqua's Blueprint Communities designation has been renewed.
"That shows we are good at laying out plans and following it for redevelopment in the community," Gursky said.
It was mentioned that the partnership has a new web presence on youtube, thanks to a series of interviews with key members, put together by Ed Redding.
Members of TACP's various task forces and related organizations gave brief overviews of their ongoing projects.
Dale Freudenberger, president of the Tamaqua Historical Society, said the society has worked to fix the exterior and interior of its museum, the former First National Bank building on West Broad Street. The society received a donation of the original, two-sided bronze clock from the outside of the building, which it is in the process of restoring.
Freudenberger also mentioned work on preserving the museum's archives; archival training with the Pa. Historical and Museum Commission; adding electrical power to the Hegarty Blacksmith Shop; and plans to create a park in front of Tamaqua's oldest residence, the Burkhardt Moser home.
Linda Yulanavage, executive director of the Tamaqua Area Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Manager, pointed out efforts to refurbish the Livingstone building, which now houses DiMaggio's La Dolce Casa, through an historic easement, and the old Liberty Hall, which will become residential units. Others, such as Wittig CPAs, are in the process of self-restoration.
Yulanavage noted that not every revitalization project is an immediate success. A falling real estate market caused TACP to lose $86,000 with the resale of the former Wenzel Bakery, although the sale did include an historic easement to prevent its demolition.
Dr. Joe Uernovitch, president of Tamaqua Industrial Development Enterprises (TIDE), said there is an effort to make the final lots in the Tidewood East Industrial Park in Hometown pad-ready to attract businesses. The park is almost at capacity, Urenovitch noted, and TIDE has been seeking a new site for potential development.
Urenovitch added that TIDE has spoken to Lehigh Natural Resources east of Tamaqua on SR209 about that possibility.
Judy Hoppes related that the Spirit of Christmas festival, which began in 1996, is now being chaired by Darlene Martin and will once again be held the first weekend of December. The festival will once again include a walking tour, tree festival, the arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus, a cookie contest and community tree lighting. The Bach and Handel Chorale will perform at St. John United Church of Christ.
Hollie Gibbons of St. Luke's Miners Memorial Hospital, Tamaqua, commented on the Community Health Assessment currently being gathered in the community through surveys, interviews and focus groups. Gibbons said the findings will be used in creating a five-year strategic plan to address health concerns in the community.
Christine Verdier chairs the Artist Live-Work Space initiative. She said that two New York based artists have bought properties in Tamaqua: Joe Mariani purchased the former Knights of Columbus building, and Stephen Bennett bought the former Presbyterian church. Efforts are underway to attract more artists and to make the community climate and its regulations artist-friendly.
Maureen Donovan of LCCC noted the number of educational seminars being presented in the community development effort, such as social network marketing, grant writing, financial management and building websites.
Kathy Kunkel, Tamaqua's Elm Street Manager, said that the South Ward Neighborhood Community has completed its Carriage Street steps renovation project and is working to refurbish the South Ward playground, including the construction of a community center.
Jason Boris, exeuctive director of the Eastern Schuylkill Recreation Commission, noted a number of projects, including renovating the Lehigh and New England Rail Trail along SR309; the building of Owl Creek Community Park; the restoration of the Quakake playground and Wildcat Park; and efforts to complete a Tamaqua Riverwalk, West Penn Park East and to revamp the Middleport playground.
Other efforts mentioned included work at Depot Square Park, where a gazebo was donated by Robert Dunn; and the continuation of the upper floor marketing study, which is being chaired by Ken Dunkelberger.
For all of its ongoing efforts, Joseph A. Yarzebinski, program director for Rural LISC (Local Initiative Support Corporation), presented Stefanek and the partnership with the "Swing Town award", complete with a pendulum to show movement in the right direction.
Rural LISC is a national intermediary organization that works to obtain funding from banks and corporations to invest in local communities, providing technical as well as financial assistance in helping them become sustainable. Rural LISC has done such investment in the Tamaqua area through the partnership.
"Tamaqua, in terms of development and partnerships, blows the doors off of urban areas," said Yarzebinski. "We are very impressed with the results."
Thomas F. Burns, managing director for Urban Ventures Group, Philadelphia, concluded the evening by faciliating a discussion on what is next for the partnership.
Burns suggested continuing to look at the five pillars of Sustainable Communities: housing and real estate; family wealth; economic development; education; and healthy choices.
Audience members suggested a number of areas to address, such as the need for lodging to further develop tourism; more involvement from the school district; and better marketing the area's assets to "build a buzz" and "get the message out" about the region.