INDIANA BOROUGH: Revitalization effort moves to new phase
Now that Indiana’s new IRMC Park along North Seventh Street is completed and the leaning wall along Water Street and the crumbling Vinegar Hill steps have been rebuilt, construction crews will next go to work on the final segment of the current phase of the borough’s downtown revitalization project.
James Golias, an engineer and project manager with EG&G Consultants, told borough council Tuesday that rehabilitation upgrades on Segment C — along Philadelphia Street from Sixth to Ninth streets — are expected to start during this year’s construction season and continue into 2015. EG&G is the Ohio-based firm designing the Philadelphia Street enhancements and helping to secure funding for the project as a public-private partnership.
[PHOTO: Construction workers on revitalization project in October 2013. Gazette file photo.]
The Indiana Economic Development project, also known as Renaissance Indiana, has been a collaboration between Downtown Indiana Inc., Indiana Borough, Indiana County and Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The project’s goal is to create an attractive, welcoming environment that supports economic development and improves the quality of life.
The upcoming Segment C will get the same treatments the earlier segments received: New sidewalks, crosswalks and pedestrian access ramps that meet ADA standards; storm drainage improvements including curbs, gutters and catch basins; utility repairs; new streetlights; street resurfacing with new striping and traffic signs; and new landscaping and furnishings including new trees.
The Segment C section of Philadelphia Street was renovated with improvements in the late 1980s.
Golias told council the segments of the downtown revitalization project are a roughly $10.5 million undertaking, but only about $2 million of the total came from equal shares from the four partners. He complimented the partners on their cooperation and coordination in securing about $8 million in grants for the project.
Golias said the enhancements are not only visually pleasing, but infrastructure improvements out of sight underground are an added benefit of the project.
David Fairman, the borough’s public works director, said natural gas and water utility companies replaced some of their underground lines — at their own expense — during the renovation work, and those improvements mean more reliable delivery of those services to businesses along Philadelphia Street.
Golias said the work on Segment C is projected to cost more than $3.25 million and will largely be funded by a state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant. Money left over from the earlier segments will also be carried forward to help pay for the improvements starting this summer.
Only a couple of the current council members were in office when planning for the streetscape improvements started years ago. Some of the newer council members said Tuesday they have not seen any plans for the Segment C improvements and they had many questions: Who was involved in planning the changes, and did community members have a say on the design committee about what the downtown would look like after the renovations are completed? How long ago was the planning done? Who had final approval on the project? What is the likely life expectancy of the improvements? Who will be responsible for the cost of maintenance on the improvements?
Hastie Kinter and Betsy Lauber, board members of Downtown Indiana Inc., explained that when the concept began, the community at large was invited to assist a community design committee with representatives from the four funding partners. In the beginning, committees met frequently and some of the early preliminary engineering was done years ago so that efforts could start to line up grant funding for the segments, they said.
Councilman John Petrosky, one of the more senior members of council, assured the newer members there had been substantial public involvement in the planning of the project. He reminded council that at one point there was a suggestion to have a cascading waterfall replace the crumbling Vinegar Hill steps. And the improvements along the Philadelphia Street corridor at one time were proposed to extend farther in both directions, but were scaled back because of costs.
“There has been a lot of public involvement, but we’re at the end of this” now, he said.
Golias said the life span of some of the components of the enhancements should be 15 to 20 years or longer.
As for the cost of maintaining the improvements, Kinter said council in 2005 required Downtown Indiana Inc. to create a Business Improvement District, and annual assessments paid by business owners in the BID will pay for upkeep of the improvements.
Councilman Larry DeChurch noted there was some resistance among business owners to the creation of the BID.
“The BID may not be voted back in” and may not be a reliable source of maintenance funds in the future, DeChurch said.
One legal challenge to the mandatory BID assessments is unresolved.
Borough Manager William Sutton said the streetscape enhancements are a project the new council members “inherited” because so much of it was planned, designed and approved years ago.
Sutton suggested council’s Public Works Committee serve as a clearinghouse for questions about, and updates on, the downtown revitalization project.
Byron Stauffer, executive director of the Indiana County Office of Planning and Development, told council the previous segments of the streetscape enhancements have been successful because many people in the community have been committed to the project, local legislators have supported it and the four partners have worked well together. The grants that will pay for most of the project were approved because “everybody pulled together” and because sufficient planning and design work was done to make the project “shovel-ready” and more attractive for grant funding, he said.
Stauffer reminded council that the state money for Segment C is a reimbursable grant and council will need to secure $3.25 million in financing so that money is in place to start paying contractors when the work begins later this year.
Councilman John Hartman raised one other concern about the coming Segment C improvements. As part of the renovations, the diagonal pedestrian crossing at the Philadelphia Street-Seventh Street intersection will be eliminated, and when pedestrians are crossing one street drivers will be making left and right turns from the other street as they do at many other intersections in Indiana.
“That safe crosswalk needs to stay,” Hartman said.
Renaissance Indiana began with Segment A, which renovated the streetscape along Philadelphia Street from Ninth to 10th Street and was completed in late 2009. It was followed by improvements to Segment B1, along Philadelphia Street from Fifth to Sixth street, and then Segment B2 (designated as halves because of separate funding sources involved) along North Seventh Street from Philadelphia Street to Water Street. That segment included the rebuilding of the Vinegar Hill steps and retaining wall.