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Tamaqua awarded prestigious designation from state
Three weeks ago, Governor Tom Corbett announced that Tamaqua was awarded the only available “pilot” (small community) zone designation in Pennsylvania for the state's new City Revitalization and Improvement Zone (CRIZ) program. This is very good news for anyone who lives or works in the region.
Why is this a tremendous opportunity for Tamaqua and its surrounding communities? Three words sum up the potential: Jobs, jobs, jobs! Tamaqua is the first non-city and only the third municipality in Pennsylvania to earn this coveted designation. In 2014, the state designated two similar zones in the cities of Bethlehem and Lancaster, based on the success of a somewhat similar program which has greatly increased the number of private sector jobs in downtown Allentown in the past few years.
I’d like to applaud every member of Borough Council for their efforts to realize the potential of this program and their willingness to spend more than a year on their successful application. Representative Knowles and I are looking forward to working with residents, borough officials, businesses, developers and others to maximize the potential number of jobs so that as many people throughout our entire region can directly benefit from the CRIZ. Both existing employers and new businesses can take advantage of this effort—along with all of their employees!
Many of you have heard me say this in the past: Revitalization and decay is not just a big-city issue, it is also an issue which affects many of our smaller communities across the state. That is why I amended the CRIZ legislation on the floor of the State Senate to allow for one “pilot” zone in a smaller community and I am very pleased that Tamaqua was willing to work for more than a year on its successful application. If the Tamaqua pilot/experiment succeeds, and I believe it will, I am sure that other communities across Pennsylvania will learn from our experience.
With this new CRIZ designation, we have some very exciting prospects on the horizon for the Tamaqua area. I hinted that this may become a reality during the Tamaqua Area Community Partnership’s (TACP) Nov. 19 event, which you can watch here.
What does CRIZ mean for our community?
The CRIZ program will allow Tamaqua to finance redevelopment projects – including rehabilitating vacant or underutilized spaces to strengthen the local economy, provide new opportunities and create new jobs – by keeping state and local taxes collected within the zone.
As noted recently at the 20th anniversary celebration of the TACP, we have seen some major successes in rebuilding the Tamaqua area, while we all understand that much more remains to be done.
Interested in learning more about the 20th anniversary celebration of the Tamaqua Area Community Partnership? You can watch the program in its entirety here.
One of the major successes of the TACP includes the “Save Our Station” initiative, which completely restored what had long been a decaying, blighted 1874 train station. The train station now houses a beautiful restaurant, along with its neighboring community park. Both serve as an illustration of the recent progress in the community.
Donald Serfass of the Times News had a great article on January 5, explaining what opportunities are on the horizon for Tamaqua – please read his story below:
Tamaqua could see $10M from Pa.
Monday, January 5, 2015
Gov. Tom Corbett last week announced that Tamaqua qualified for the first City Revitalization and Improvement Zone.
But what does all of this mean?
The CRIZ is a pilot zone designation that allows a town to create a financing authority to be used to leverage state tax dollars in a way that launches private investment in under-utilized properties.
So what will the pioneer program do for Tamaqua? It will help the borough attract businesses to revitalize downtown areas.
What it won't do, state officials say, is raise taxes for local residents.
Instead, it's a way for current and future tax money to be applied differently to benefit the town.
State and local taxes collected within a CRIZ are used to repay debt service.
"It allows our tax money to come back to us," said Micah Gursky, Tamaqua Borough Council president.
It might be described as a way to keep tax dollars local, to let a community's tax revenue benefit the community itself, almost directly.
The amount of funding involved is unknown. But some feel the program ultimately could leverage more than $10 million in investment into the Schuylkill County town over time.
Gov. Tom Corbett said Tamaqua, a town in the throes of revitalization, is perfect for the program.
"Our local communities are critical to Pennsylvania's economy," he said. "By creating a CRIZ Pilot Zone in Tamaqua, we are helping the borough attract new private investment to spur job growth."
The announcement seemed to come overnight. But the reality is far different.
Tamaqua officials spent at least a year or two preparing and applying for the program. An initial application reportedly was rejected, later refined and resubmitted.
Last year, the borough appointed a financing authority, part of the framework necessary to administer CRIZ funds.
Those appointments were announced in Times News coverage of borough council meetings although, at the time, few details were discussed regarding the reasons for the creation of the entity.
State Sen. David Argall sees the CRIZ program as one of the best things to happen to Tamaqua in its long history.
"This is a tremendous opportunity for the borough of Tamaqua and its surrounding communities," he said. "Tamaqua is the first non-city and only the third municipality in Pennsylvania to earn this coveted designation."
Argall had hinted at potential good news for the area during a talk presented during the 20th anniversary celebration of the Tamaqua Area Community Partnership late last year. Today, he says the initiative was made possible by a grassroots push.
"I'd like to applaud the local officials for their efforts to realize the potential of this program already utilized in Lancaster and Bethlehem. I'm looking forward to working with residents, borough officials, businesses, developers and others to maximize the borough's potential and take full advantage of this program."
One big part of the CRIZ initiative is to identify target properties that lend themselves to development.
In Tamaqua, some see West Broad Street as a key target area.
The 100 and 200 blocks host several large, older, little-used buildings in need of overhaul and development.
The two blocks are a focal point and strong contributing resource to the Tamaqua National Historic District. The immediate area already has benefited by the 2006 Victorian streetscape program, but could use additional help to restore vitality.
For example, the massive 1925 Edward W. Jennings Furniture Building, 205 W. Broad St., represents an opportunity, say locals.
It's an Art Deco, open gallery construction, once a showpiece of the community. In 1936, it was remodeled by then-owner Mitchell Rappaport and renamed Mitchell's Furniture Gallery. The three-story, brick building was designated a fallout shelter in the 1950s and became a landmark in the community.
It dominates the neighborhood but has fallen into disrepair and has been declared unfit for occupancy.
Some believe the Mitchell building can be restored and adapted for reuse, perhaps as a public library and/or apartment complex.
This is just one area being studied.
If new ideas and current projects come together, Tamaqua's downtown could become a significant destination for visitors and tour groups.
It will include a new museum currently underway, a new library, availability of three large restaurants including Italian fare, a Chinese buffet and a gourmet restaurant, along with the visitors reception center at the $1.5 million restored Victorian train station and nearby art gallery and performing arts center. Virtually all of the attractions are located within a block or two.
The borough will work closely with the Department of Community and Economic Development and the Department of Revenue to identify priority projects.
"Tamaqua is ready to work with local and new developers and businesses to help them take advantage of this opportunity," Gursky said.
"We're grateful to be selected as Pennsylvania's pilot CRIZ and hope to demonstrate how this tool can improve a small rural community. The CRIZ could tip the scale making possible otherwise impossible developments."