Five years ago, when Paul Rosenblatt was doing some architecture consulting work in Johnstown, he developed an affection for the city and its attractions, such as the Inclined Plane and George’s Song Shop, America’s oldest record store.
“I fell in love with Johnstown,” he said. “It’s a love story.
“And I couldn’t get the city out of my mind.”
Rosenblatt wanted to be part of the community.
So, back in 2014, he started envisioning a place where innovative budding entrepreneurs could come together in an environment that would foster their creativity and provide the tools necessary to develop partnerships.
He worked with many individuals and organizations, including Johnstown resident Donald Bonk, Carnegie Mellon University, Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, Southern Alleghenies Planning & Development Commission, Vision 2025 and Johnstown Area Regional Industries.
They sketched out plans, brought on other partners and secured funding.
And, on Thursday, Rosenblatt and dozens of community leaders gathered under the gazebo in Central Park to announce that remodeling construction will soon begin on Creator Square, a maker residency and maker space located inside the Parkview Building, 134 Gazebo Park.
Rosenblatt, a Pittsburgh-area resident, hopes Creator Square, which is scheduled to be up and running next spring, will attract visionaries to the city where they will start and grow businesses, make investment and drive tourism, foster civic engagement, build job skills and entrepreneurship and help define the community’s civic identity.
“Craftspeople and makers see the potential where other people don’t,” Rosenblatt said.
Residents selected by a committee as part of an application process will have access to specialized equipment, such as rotary saws, CNC routers, 3D printers and welding gear, whether at the building itself or the Greater Johnstown Career & Technology Center in Richland Township.
“That’s really where we see GJCTC fitting into this,” John Augustine, the center’s administrative director, said. “We’re going to be able to use the resources that we already have and we’re training individuals on how to use it. Combine that with the mind of a maker who is going to be doing small-batch manufacturing or even the art manufacturing that’s going to happen with this, and we’re going to grow industry, and we’re going to have the workforce to support that.”
The incubator will also provide the developers with networking opportunities that should help enable them to grow their entrepreneurial ideas.
“A maker space is ultimately an economic development exercise,” Mike Kane, CFA’s president and executive director, said. “That’s what we’re doing here today. We are growing our community by encouraging and fostering support for these small-batch manufacturers. The idea here is you’re going to see new faces. You’re going to see more activity because of the collective work.”
JARI President and CEO Linda Thomson thinks Creator Square’s impact will be felt throughout the entire region, not just the city.
“Obviously, this is great revitalization work,” Thomson said. “This is a great investment in our downtown. This is also part of our entrepreneurial ecosystem. That’s something that we’re really excited about. We want to continue to build on that entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
Creator Square’s developers and supporters see the project as a modern-day connection to the commonwealth’s rich manufacturing history.
“The cool thing about western Pennsylvania is that it’s in the Rust Belt, and so the culture here is very much full of grit and people proud of working with their hands through steel and all that,” said Nicholas Anthony, owner of Beaver County-based PiMios, a tactical engineering firm that develops and manufactures intelligent hardware.
“Western PA did a great job of revitalizing itself after steel fell. I think the maker community is a great place to be in western PA.”