ALIQUIPPA — Gov. Tom Wolf visited Aliquippa Wednesday morning to take a closer look at what a several-million-dollar investment into the city will look like.
The city was awarded several state grants since 2015 reaching a little over $11 million. Each grant targets innovation and revitalization in the old mill town, which has struggled economically since the demise of the steel industry.
“If you think about the history of Aliquippa, 51% of the population lived and worked in that mill,” Mayor Dwan Walker said Wednesday. “So why not us? Why not Aliquippa come back as a phoenix rising from the ashes, why not a renaissance in Aliquippa?”
Walker explained what the city has done, and plans to do in the future, with the grant money.
Some of those projects include reconfiguration of the Route 51 interchange, manufacturing, updated housing and commercial buildings, updated zoning ordinances, pedestrian and vehicle safety measures, and other developments spearheaded by local committees, residents and officials, including the Aliquippa school board, city council and water authority, the city Economic Development Corporation, and others.
Wolf visited the East End Development Site in Aliquippa to see how state investments have helped the city to remove blighted properties and prepare the land near a Route 51 interchange for future business development and prepare to capitalize on the petrochemicals plant that Shell Chemicals is constructing a few miles from the city.
More than $7.7 million of the $11 million will support the East End Development Site.
Some of the investments made in Aliquippa to date include:
- Grant and low-interest loan financing to perform environmental site assessments and remediation work at former industrial sites through the Industrial Sites Reuse Program.
- Funding through the Blight Remediation Program to assist with blight remediation.
- $7 million to reconfigure the Route 51 interchange adjacent to the East End Development site through the TIIF program.
- $72,500 in Act 47 funding to support Aliquippa in its redevelopment efforts.
- $365,000 in Keystone Communities funding to demolish commercial buildings at the East End Development site.
- $500,000 to make pedestrian and vehicular safety improvements to the main corridor on Fifth Avenue through the Multi-Modal Transportation Program
- $140,233 to complete site preparation and clearance on the Bricks site project.
- $25,000 through the Municipal Assistance Program to update land-use regulations including the zoning ordinance.
- More than $2.4 million in Neighborhood Partnership Funding via a donation from BNY Mellon to fund the redevelopment of Aliquippa.
Visiting Aliquippa reminded Wolf of his own town of York. Before getting into politics, the governor said he was involved in revitalizing that community.
“I got into politics because I was concerned about my own community, York,” Wolf said. “And I saw in Dwan the kind of leadership that every community really needs.
“It takes both state and local leadership to make projects like Aliquippa’s effective,” he said.
“There is an inside game and an outside game, and state is the outside game, and we need to do what we can do to help, but it really is a wonderful thing when you have leadership and the energy that you’re showing, Dwan, because Aliquippa early deserves to be back to where it was, and even better,” Wolf said. “And you’re doing that, and I’m proud to be a partner with you.”
Some during Wednesday’s briefing asked if gentrification could result from these revitalization efforts.
Wolf said having local people spearhead these projects will help keep the integrity of the community.
“Who’s in charge of this development? That’s going to make a really big difference,” he said. “They’re not just at the table, they are the table.”
Walker said as a life-long resident of Aliquippa, he and others committed to these projects will make sure gentrification doesn’t happen.
“Gentrification is not something we speak of,” he said. “Everybody in this city will have an equal opportunity to speak on anything that comes. We’re looking for partners, we’re not looking for bullies.
“So if you want to sit down and talk about how the future is going to be, we’re here to listen. But if you’re going to come in and take advantage of us, we’ve already had that happen,” Walker added. “I don’t know why our residents think gentrification is going to happen — it’s not.”
He called the projects and initiatives in the city “a renaissance of Aliquippa,” built on partnership and collaboration, and hope and possibility.”
“The state programs have helped usher in a renaissance in the city of Aliquippa,” Walker said.