West-End/ Route 56 Blight Project

Melissa Komar, executive director of Johnstown Redevelopment Authority, announces the West End/Route 56 corridor blight improvement program on Thursday, June 20, 2019, at St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church social hall in the city's West End.

Business and community leaders frequently drive visitors into Johnstown using a circuitous route through the city’s West End in order to avoid the main Strayer Street/Fairfield Avenue gateway, where rampant blight can make a negative first impression.

But a plan is now in place to eliminate those eyesores and health hazards.

Community Foundation for the Alleghenies and 1889 Foundation have provided Johnstown Redevelopment Authority matching $150,000 grants for a total of $300,000 to be used for demolition work on the corridor.

“As community leaders, we should not have to struggle to determine the best way to drive a prospective developer through our city to avoid seeing the red Xs on many properties,” Melissa Komar, JRA’s executive director, said during a press conference inside St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church’s social hall on Thursday.

“Our hospital leaders should not have to take the long way when showing a prospective doctor our city by trying to avoid multiple blighted structures along the two-mile corridor. Our tourism professionals should not have to map out a route for a potential client who wants to bring a large convention to our area, but (does) not want their attendees to see the structures with collapsed roofs and porches. And, as most of you know, our residents should never have to deal with a derelict property adjacent to any of their own on a daily basis.”

1889 Foundation President Susan Mann believes eliminating the blight will benefit the well-being of West End residents.

“We know that making our community a better place to be, to live in, where neighbors are happier, they’re proud of their houses and their properties and their neighborhoods, makes a healthier place where you want to be healthier and have a wellness attitude,” Mann said. “We know that supporting things like this is extremely important.”

Seventeen properties are slated for razing, including the former Mom’s Diner, McKee’s Market and Blaine Boring Chocolate Shop.

Demolitions will be done in conjunction with the Fairfield/Strayer sewer system remediation work that is part of the overall state-mandated, citywide project to reduce flows into Dornick Point Sewage Treatment Plant.

Funds for the two-year project that is scheduled to begin in September will include $5.2 million in grants awarded to the city, $2.1 million from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and $15,000 for brownfield remediation from the Cambria County Redevelopment Authority – with another $15,000 expected in September – along with access to $11.125 million in low-interest PennVEST loans.

“This is an example, I think, of how a community can work together, leverage our assets, accomplish things together and move forward,” CFA President Mike Kane said. “The Community Foundation is delighted to support this for just that reason in terms of making this project happen.”

Local officials from JRA and Vision 2025, a grassroots effort to improve the city presented the project to the Army Corps of Engineers more than three years ago.

“This project, I think, epitomizes all that work that we’ve done, not just as Vision 2025, but all the groups, all the organizations, all the political groups that work to keep Johnstown moving forward,” Johnstown Mayor Frank Janakovic said.

Even with the West End demolitions, hundreds of blighted properties will remain within the city.

“Finally, the most important thing, this is just a start, and I can’t emphasize that enough,” Kane said. “Sure, we’re doing a great job. We’re doing a great thing here. But it’s a start of what I hope are going to be more partnerships, more work, as we all together work to reinvigorate our community.”

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5056. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Sutor.