Governor visits

Gov. Ed Rendell arrives in downtown Sharon Monday morning to deliver more than $4 million for development in Mercer County.

Gov. Ed Rendell stopped by downtown Sharon Monday with more than $4 million for development in Mercer County.

Rendell presented Sharon Mayor Bob Lucas with $3 million to help revitalize the downtown riverfront through construction of the eight-story Lofts at Centre City at Shenango Avenue and Pitt Street. The funding is from the Rural Community Assistance Program, which also paid for improvements along Shenango Avenue and the Shenango River in recent years.

The governor gave a $1.25 million grant to the city of Hermitage for the Tech Innovation and Development Center being planned for LindenPointe technical business park. He said the hope is that the center will create 250 jobs in the area.

“We want to arm our workers with the skills to remain competitive in the knowledge-based workplace,” said Eric M. Karmecy, assistant director of workforce development for West Central Job Partnership, which is involved in developing the center.

Construction could begin in early 2009, said Hermitage assistant city manager Gary Gulla.

“We’re pretty excited about it,” Gulla said of the regional project that will help the area compete in the global economy.

Butler County Community College at LindenPointe is part of the development, too, and President Nick Neupauer said the college can serve as a niche for workforce development.

Shenango Associates partner Greg Koledin said they plan to break ground next month on the building, which will include retail, office and apartment space. Koledin said the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry will be a tenant of the building.

Mercer County Commissioner Brian Beader is Koledin’s partner in the development which is part of a $32 million, five-year plan to revitalize the area along the Shenango.

The grant announced Monday combined with a $500,000 Housing and Redevelopment Assistance grant and $500,000 from the state’s Growing Greener program will supplement $8 million in private funds and conventional loans to build the Lofts, Koledin said. The building should be finished next spring, he said.

Koledin said they’re on a tight schedule and construction got delayed by the permitting process and gathering funding for the project.

A foot bridge from downtown to the Shenango Campus of Pennsylvania State University and other streetscape improvements in the area will be done at the same time. Other upcoming projects include a new roadway to divert truck traffic through downtown and upgrades at the city parking garage, Koledin said.

There’s an industrial component in the works, but Koledin declined to disclose details.

The governor’s visit was part of a five-day bus tour announcing $642 million in state grants and loans to expand businesses, improve communities and repair bridges across the commonwealth. The move is expected to spur more than $1.3 billion in private and local investments to keep Pennsylvanians working, Rendell said.

About 80 people stood in the heat under tents at the site of the Lofts to hear the governor speak.

Lucas introduced Rendell, lauding the governor’s work in recent years.

“Our governor — who was mayor of Philadelphia — understands the struggles of a small city,” Lucas said. “On behalf of my small city … we appreciate the governor and what he knows and what he does.”

“Our national economy is in trouble,” Rendell said, adding that he and state legislators decided to do something to stimulate the economy in Pennsylvania.

Between April and June the United States lost about 200,000 jobs, Rendell said, while Pennsylvania gained 6,800.

“That’s good news and we want to make sure that the good news continues here,” Rendell said.

Rendell also spoke about a plan to fix 411 bridges across the state — projects that require enough steel to build four Eiffel Towers — with a total investment of $1 billion including federal funding. He said that Pennsylvania has the highest number of structurally deficient bridges in the country and that an accelerated repair program will fix some that would have had to wait longer for renovation.

The state is spending $13 million to repair 13 bridges in Mercer County. Those include spans in Sharon and Findley, French Creek, Sugar Grove, Lackawannock, Perry, Springfield and Liberty townships.

Rendell said 14,000 jobs across the state are supported by the bridge repairs.

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