Sharon Awarded Grant for Downtown Planning

SHARON, Pa. – A $15,000 grant from Pennsylvania’s Keystone Communities program will support creation of a coordinated business development plan for downtown Sharon and could open sources of funding for city improvements, the city’s economic development director said.

The grant, which requires a $15,000 local match, will be used to fund a business development feasibility study and development of a five-year revitalization action strategy, said Melissa Lynn Phillips, Sharon’s community and economic development director.

“We are going to create a five-year plan that would include how to fund a downtown manager and how that would allow us to become a qualified national Main Street organization,” she said.

The Keystone Communities program is designed to support local initiatives that grow and stabilize neighborhoods and communities, encourage the creation of partnerships between the public and private sectors in the community and enhance the overall quality of life for residents, according to a news release announcing the grant. The program is administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

“A lot of this is providing more capacity at the city level to be able to go out in the community and speak to people and better understand their needs,” Phillips said. “We’re in a difficult position because staffing is limited, and as much as we’d want to be out getting more community and business feedback, it’s really hard to do that.”

The planning grant presents “a really great opportunity to engage local businesses and figure out what they need,” she continued.

“A thriving, prosperous downtown” is at the heart of any successful community and downtown Sharon, thanks to local grassroots efforts, has “developed a vibrant landscape,” said state Rep. Mark Longietti, D-7 Mercer, in the announcement of the grant.

“Now, we have to build on that success. It’s time for a unified business development strategy to ensure that we continue moving forward with a common vision that will make the city even more attractive to investors, shoppers, tourists and students attending the Penn State Shenango campus,” he continued.

The work funded by the grant will hopefully attract more people downtown, said Carla Infante, owner of Never Enough Yarn, 142 E. State St.

“Lately, other than WaterFire, we have not really been able to get people into town,” she said.

Part of that is because of the East State Street construction project, which is restricting traffic flow along the busy corridor, she said. She also noted that WaterFire this year will only take place twice this year, and the events are primarily driven by volunteers.

Merchants have also tried to collaborate on activities to draw people downtown, but organizing events and attending planning meetings can be difficult for someone running a small business, who is often the business’ only employee.

“It’s a great thing if this goes in place and we can get somebody hired to start driving some activity to bring people down more often,” she said.

Paperwork on the grant is still being finalized, but Phillips said she expects the city to put out a request of proposals for a consultant in early spring. Both the study and the plan should be completed within a year, she said. The city is reaching out to the business community for the matching funds required for the grant.

“I’m optimistic we’ll be able to get those matching funds relatively quickly,” she said.

The community and economic development director is also optimistic that the work funded by the grant will help Sharon get certified by Main Street America, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation that works with organizations and leaders at the local, city, state and national level to protect the historic character of cities and towns across the country.

The Main Street designation would tie Sharon into a national network of best practices and open funding sources from the commonwealth, depending on the needs identified during the survey, Phillips said. That could include money for façade improvements, technical assistance or microloans.

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