Clarion Blueprint Community Discusses Options for Revitalization
(PICTURED: Bill Fontana of the Pennsylvania Downtown Center.)
The town of Clarion is halfway through a 10-year designation as a Blueprint Community. The designation comes from the Federal Home Loan Bank Pittsburgh. It includes no state or federal funds. A home loan bank is a government-sponsored bank that provides funds to member financial institutions. There are 11 in the nation.
Clarion was awarded its designation in 2014 and will “graduate” from the program in 2024.
Clarion Borough Councilwoman Carol Lapinto says in 2014 there were 60 applicants for the program. Clarion was one of six communities chosen to participate. She credited a joint application between the borough and Clarion University of Pennsylvania for the award.
“I think what really helped us is that our application was unique,” she told those gathered. “This was the very first application between a host community and a university. Both of us were committed to doing what’s best for this community.”
The day’s guest speaker was Bill Fontana of the Pennsylvania Downtown Center, a nonprofit organization that provides outreach, technical assistance, and educational services to assist communities in revitalization efforts.
Fontana explained the purpose of the Blueprint designation is threefold:
-To build leadership;
-To develop local and regional planning skills; and
-To encourage coordinated investment in targeted communities.
Being a Blueprint Community comes with no specific funds attached. The program, however, does provide for training in ways to apply for funds from existing sources both public and private.
The areas in which Clarion Blueprint has concentrated include central business district revitalization, outdoor recreation, Clarion University, the arts, and accessibility and beautification.
Now, five years into the program, the time has come to assess progress and set a course for the future, Fontana advised.
One possibility is applying to become a part of the Main Street program, which is a five-year designation.
“A couple of nice things about that,” Fontana said. “You get a lot of free technical assistance from the Commonwealth and from our organization, (Pennsylvania Downtown Center.) There’s money for façade programs, there’s money for streetscape improvements, for beautification efforts, for development efforts including revolving loan programs.”
As Clarion Blueprint, Inc. embarks on the next phase of the program, he says there are several steps to be taken.
In the works is the creation of an organizational chart for Clarion Blueprint Communities, Inc.
“Right now,” Fontana explained, “there’s a board of directors, there will be an executive committee. We’re considering four or five committees. One would be like an organizing committee and be responsible for keeping Clarion Blueprint, Inc. moving forward. Also committees for fundraising and partnership building.”
He also envisions a physical improvement committee to be responsible for things like façade restoration, streetscape improvements, and other physical improvement issues.
Fontana would also like to see a business “matchmaking” effort.”
“One of the big challenges that a lot of communities are facing these days is folks in their 50’s and 60’s who are running critical businesses in town are starting to think about retirement,” according to Fontana. “Who’s going to step in? Is the family prepared to take over? Is there some way you can keep those businesses open?”
Fontana envisions a statewide database of retiring business owners and those who might like to step into that business to keep it going.
Another option is for the board of Clarion Blueprint to become an umbrella organization for the area.
“There have been discussions already with Destination Clarion downtown, I think there’s been some conversation that it makes sense to talk about the farmer’s market, the arts council some of these other groups that maybe aren’t formal 501c3 (nonprofit) organizations.”
The reason is these organizations all need to have insurance and administrative costs. Those costs could be minimized by joining with the Blueprint organization, according to Fontana.
Other aspects to be considered by the board include getting a five-year plan and budget in place and recruiting more volunteers.
“The work that needs to be done cannot be done by one part-time staff person,” Fontana explained. “It can’t be done by nine people on the Blueprint core team.”
Getting those volunteers goes along with soliciting buy-in and local financial resource development.
“The world of community development is not what it was 10 years ago,” said Fontana.
When Fontana first came to work with the Pennsylvania Downtown Center 19 years ago, he said the state provided about $56,000,000 per year in funding through various programs. That number in 2008 was lowered to $6,000,000.
Despite these challenges, Fontana believes the Clarion Blueprint program has turned a corner by choosing a clear direction and creating a strong plan.
“I think you’re going to see good things happen here over the next couple of years,” he said.
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