Blight removal is the gift that keeps on giving for residents and business owners in Johnstown.
As our Dave Sutor reported, more than 100 blighted structures are coming down every year in the city, eliminating eyesores and health concerns while providing for either green space or new places for commercial or residential use.
The number of blighted buildings in Johnstown has been trimmed by almost a third – from more than 1,000 to about 700 – in just a few years.
And here’s the best part: This is being done with private donations and foundation support, meaning the burden isn’t falling to taxpayers.
“Each year we see an improvement in blight elimination in the city,” Johnstown Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Melissa Komar said in our Monday story. “At first the pace was slow, but over the past 24 months the rate of demolitions has increased tremendously.”
That acceleration is happening because of a shared effort involving the JRA, the city and the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, which has provided important dollars for the blight effort.
The latest sign of this collaboration is the ongoing removal of dilapidated apartment buildings in the city’s Prospect neighborhood.
Indeed, work is being done along some of the city’s more heavily traveled corridors, helping with the aesthetic value. In addition to the efforts along William Penn Avenue in Prospect, blight removal has been happening on Franklin Street and Route 56 in the West End, as well as in Old Conemaugh Borough.
The most visible project was the razing of the Conrad Building along Franklin Street by the Stonycreek River.
Community and Economic Development Director John Dubnansky said the Conrad demolition came at a cost of $160,000, and total blight removal work will reach $400,000 in 2020.
Private donors have contributed $1.3 million toward blight elimination in Johnstown through the Community Foundation since 2018.
“That’s happened because of the work that they’re doing and because we’ve had some donors that are supportive of these efforts,” CFA President Mike Kane said.
CFA funding has helped with the removal of 85 structures in two years, Komar said.
“Years ago it was realized that government money alone would never be able to eliminate all of the blight in our city and because of that, private donors have led the way in 2019 and 2020,” Komar said.
“The Community Foundation for the Alleghenies has served as a conduit for these donors to connect with us on demolition projects and begin the implementation process.
“We can now say that we are winning the blight fight, and you can see that in almost every ward of the city.”
What a fantastic private-public partnership.
And each blight removed opens an opportunity for another use for that spot, including new or expanding businesses.
“Eliminating the structure is the first step, putting the land back into reuse is the next step,” Komar said.
“We are always working on both of these steps simultaneously.”
Johnstown residents should be sending Christmas cards with messages of thanks to these hard-working visionaries who are literally transforming our landscape.
We’re sure the Community Foundation would pass those sentiments along to their blight-removal backers.