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New Pa. program could help renew Chambersburg's neighborhoods

April 22, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - Downtown Chambersburg Inc.'s revitalization efforts may soon extend from the commercial core along Main Street to declining neighborhoods if funding can be obtained from a new state program.

Pennsylvania's Elm Street Program is designed to be linked with nonprofit downtown rehabilitation programs, said Paul Cullinane, president of Downtown Chambersburg Inc.

He told the borough council Monday that the state has allocated $5 million for the program this year and $7 million next year.

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"This is a neighborhood renewal strategy that has to be physically tied to the downtown revitalization effort," Cullinane said.

Cullinane said the five-year program offers a $25,000 planning grant for the first year that requires a 10 percent local match of $2,500 from the borough. If the planning grant leads to Chambersburg being designated an official Elm Street Program, the borough would be eligible to apply for additional grants for operations and residential reinvestment through the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

For years two through five, Cullinane said, up to $50,000 in operational grants are available each year that could be used to hire a full- or part-time Elm Street manager. Another $50,000 to $250,000 in annual grants are available for actual improvements to a neighborhood.

Receiving those grants also would be contingent on a local 10 percent match, which could come from a variety of sources, he said. Over five years, a municipality could receive a maximum of $1,225,000 through the program for a local investment of $125,000.

Community Development Block Grant funds could be used as part of a local match if the neighborhood's households are primarily low- to moderate-income, Borough Manager Eric Oyer said.

The list of possible uses for the reinvestment grants includes streetlights, street repairs, tree planting, landscaping, sidewalk replacement or repair and facade improvements. Property owners could receive up to $2,500 for improvements to the facades of buildings and their investment above that amount could be counted toward the local match, Cullinane said.

One thing that must be determined is what neighborhood would be designated to receive the assistance. Cullinane said it has to be adjoining or within one-half mile of the downtown business district, which he defined as an area of six square blocks from King Street south to Washington Street and the Conococheague Creek east to Second Street.

Identifying that neighborhood would be part of the first-year planning process, Cullinane said.

A program summary stated the neighborhood must be dominated by buildings constructed prior to 1961 and preferably within a town's designated historic district. Criteria for neighborhood eligibility include crime, poverty, unemployment and deteriorating housing, according to the summary.

Cullinane said Downtown Chambersburg Inc. would provide oversight for Elm Street and its manager would essentially serve as an assistant to him.

"Is it automatic after the first year?" Councilman John Redding asked of the grants.

Cullinane said the grants are competitive and there is no guarantee a program would receive funding each year.

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