Work to be done for $1.5 million state grant
The city still has to get final state approval and arrange temporary financing.
By HAROLD GWIN
VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU
SHARON, Pa. -- Gov. Ed Rendell's recent announcement that Sharon is getting $1.5 million to help launch a downtown revitalization project doesn't mean the city automatically gets the funds.
Rendell presented Mayor David O. Ryan with a mock check during his appearance, but the city must still come up with a final acceptable application for the money as well as match the grant dollar for dollar.
That's the primary reason the city is linking the first part of revitalization with the Penn State Shenango campus on Shenango Avenue.
Penn State plans to put about $9 million into renovations and improvements to the campus, which serves about 1,000 commuter students.
The city is hoping to use Penn State's investment as the matching funds for the state grant, Ryan said.
"We're tying into the Penn State campus and using their money," the mayor said, explaining why the revitalization effort will start with improvements to Shenango Avenue to strengthen the link between the campus and the downtown business district on the east side of the Shenango River.
A pedestrian bridge across the river from Porter Way to Silver Street at the edge of the campus will provide a similar link to the business district on the west side of the river.
Those are the two projects targeted with the state's $1.5 million, Ryan said, noting the grant will be enough to cover both, based on cost estimates prepared in a 2002 Sharon Comprehensive Downtown Revitalization Project plan put together by E.G. & amp;G. Inc. of Akron.
Those particular improvements are detailed in the plan.
The mayor said he met with a representative of the governor's office months ago to inquire about using the money Penn State is spending as a match to apply for state funds and learned that would be an acceptable plan.
State Rep. Michael Gruitza of Hermitage, D-7th, was able to get the $1.5 million allocation as a line item in the state's annual capital budget, Ryan said, adding that Sen. Bob Robbins of Greenville, R-50th, also supported the effort.
No Penn State money ($7 million from the university, $1 million raised by the local campus advisory board and $1 million yet to be raised locally) will actually be spent on city property. The investment only counts as a match to bring in the grant money.
Without it, Sharon wouldn't be able to move forward with the revitalization effort, Ryan said. Sharon just doesn't have any money to match grants of that size, he said.
The money also won't come to the city up front.
Once it is approved, Sharon will actually have to spend the $1.5 million and get reimbursed from the state. That means city council will have to approve the temporary borrowing of funds to make the initial expense and pay the debt off with the grant.
The bottom line will be a cost of perhaps $15,000 to $20,000 in interest expense on the temporary loan, "But that's a small price to pay for $1.5 million," Ryan said.
Council President Fred Hoffman said council basically has agreed to guarantee the city will have the money to do the work, but he's not sure all of council is behind the pedestrian bridge idea.
The five-member council has three new members since the E.G. & amp;G. plan was produced, and Hoffman said he isn't sure where those three stand on all aspects of the revitalization plan.
The administration needs to talk to council about that bridge, he said.
The Shenango Avenue project involves the creation of brick intersections at both State and Silver streets, installing period-style lighting along the 600 feet of street, installing benches, trees and other landscaping, and placing overhead utility lines underground.
The pedestrian bridge plan calls for making use of old stone bridge abutments left behind when the state demolished a vehicular bridge across the Shenango from Porter Way to Silver Street years ago.
The city has to get final approval from the governor's office to proceed with its plan and then arrange temporary financing, hire an engineering company to draw up plans, and then award contracts for the improvements.
Ryan said he would like to get through the engineering stage this fall and see construction in the spring.
The Shenango Avenue improvements and pedestrian bridge are only a part of the $10.8 million revitalization plan.
Ryan said he doesn't know yet if the state will allow Sharon to make additional use of the Penn State Shenango project as matching funds for more grants.
If the state sticks to the dollar-for-dollar match formula, the city should be able to take further advantage of what Penn State is doing by seeking additional state grants to implement more of the revitalization plan, he said.
The city has other improvement work recently completed or under way.
It recently finished a $340,000 demolition and parking lot project at Sharpsville Avenue and East State Street and has just begun a $1.2 million renovation of the Shenango Valley Community Library at that same intersection.
Half of the library project comes from money borrowed by the city for capital improvements. The rest, and the money for the parking lot, came from state and federal grants.
The city also has secured a $250,000 state grant to put in new sidewalks and curbs along West State Street from Irvine Avenue to the Ohio line. That grant requires no matching funds.