Revitalization on horizon for declining neighborhoods and city parks

SUN-GAZETTE FILE PHOTOS Traffic proceeds onto East Fourth Street at Basin Street. Roadways in the city are slated for changes in the coming years, according to officials.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Today the Sun-Gazette continues its annual review of the past year’s major news stories.)

City planners, funding institutions, non-profits and developers are looking ahead to a year when neighborhoods and parks in the city that have fallen on hard times and are in disrepair get attention.

The city has a new municipal planner, Chelsea Myers, who is going to focus her attention on a project called the Park Avenue Neighborhood Revitalization. It also has a new city engineer, Rebecca Haladay, who said she is going to continue to oversee additional improvements to the city Pathway to Health and retouches at Brandon Park and other parks meant to attract more visitors.

On the continuing East Third Street/Old City Gateway Revitalization Plan, Lycoming College officials and the city will start to see traffic improvements and the creation of a two-way Basin Street entrance to the college.

“Williamsport could see the fruit of economic developments in the planning and funding stage ripen next year,” said Mayor Gabriel J. Campana, adding that much of the groundwork has been laid through the finance department and others getting the funding in place.

“It’s time to start to think more about making the city a

more valuable place, a more welcoming and a liveable one,” City Councilwoman Liz Miele said prior to her re-election on council.

In addition to serving existing residents, these developments are expected to bring in professionals and skilled labor forces.

Among the most pressing developments are those east of Market Street, because they can have the most immediate economic impact for the city, which has a tightened budget reserve that has dwindled to just more than $120,000.

On the East Third Street/Old City Gateway Revitalization Project east of Market Street, filling in the vacant lots is secondary to easing traffic woes and improving access from Interstate 180, according to Mark Murawski, county transportation planner, who attended a meeting with the East Third Street/Old City Gateway Commission, held in October after a two-year hiatus.

At that meeting, local developers, Murawski and members of the administration and City Council sat on a panel discussion and expressed their excitement that funding had arrived and the design work could begin.

Bringing traffic from the interstate and back and forth into town to lessen the hassle for drivers getting through the heart of the city during morning and evening rush hours is a part of the design plan as is improving safety for pedestrians and those on bicycles, Murawski said.

Reconfiguring West Third Street, between Market and Mulberry streets for two-way traffic, is a priority to William E. Nichols Jr., city finance director and River Valley Transit general manager.

The bus service would save $70,000 annually in fuel and operation costs by creating a smoother corridor into Trade and Transit Centres I and II, Nichols said.

John Albarano II, of Albarano Construction, serves as the commission chairman. He has brought in developments such as Panera Bread, Starbucks and U-Haul. His business is at the Basin Street Shopping Plaza on Basin Street, which is to become two-way between East Third and Fourth streets as part of the southern entrance to Lycoming College.

The first right step in redesigning the area is to be able to entice more development and to experience economic resurgence, Albarano said following the commission meeting. He also said at the meeting that he favors the lane directional changes on parts of East Third Street between Market and Mulberry streets.

He viewed traffic improvements, signals and crosswalks as important to those entering the Susquehanna River Walk and for those using the bridge to connect to the interstate or to Route 15.

“It would open the east part of the Central Business District up to more potential traffic, and thus more shoppers and developments,” Albarano said.

The city is pursuing traffic signal improvements, such as those that may be available through a $1.4 million grant from the “Green Light Go” program through the state Department of Transportation, Haladay said.

The technology has a camera system and triggers lights to give emergency service providers and bus drivers the ability to manipulate the signals to allow for more green light time and thus keep the flow of vehicles moving in times of emergency, she said.

Park Avenue improvement

Park Avenue, west of Hepburn Street, is a part of the city that over the years has fallen onto hard times.

The creation of the Park Avenue Neighborhood Revitalization Plan will begin with the awarding of a consulting firm, Myers said.

“We had 11 companies submit proposals and are currently reading through all of them,” she said.

The overall plan will be completed 18 months after the consultant has been selected, she said.

The plan funding amount is $89,353. The boundaries generally are marked by Campbell Street on the west, Brandon Avenue to Walnut Street to Park Court on the north, Market Street east and Little League Boulevard on the south, she said.

The work to be expected will be based upon the selected contractor, and the city looks forward to working with the consultant and parties such as UPMC Susquehanna, county planning, River Valley Transit and most importantly, non-profit organizations, business owners and residents in the neighborhood.

The objectives of the plan are listed below in no particular order:

• Determine where change is needed and what elements of the community can provide a foundation to help stabilize the change.

• Identify redevelopment efforts that complement the surrounding context of the city but do not do it at the expense of surrounding neighborhoods.

• Incorporate present and long-term relations with the medical center, Lycoming College and the neighborhoods in which they are located.

• Identify methods in which the medical center can re-engage with the surrounding community to rebuild a strong future together.

From Myers’ perspective, the plan will allow her to work with the community to create the vision for the neighborhood.

“We need everyone from the neighborhood to participate, and using resources such as Heart of Williamsport can help make that possible,” she said.