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City Projects are Progressing Despite Pandemic
By Steve Bishop
Progress continues on myriad Union City community development projects, despite the COVID-19 pandemic slowing many aspects of society.
Union City Borough Secretary Cindy Wells has continued marshalling projects forward by telephone and email from her Main Street office, which has otherwise been closed to the general public.
“It has slowed things down, because many of the people, agencies and businesses I’ve been working with have had to adapt as well,” Wells noted. “Some local businesses are closed, of course, and in other instances people are working from home and waiting to see if they’re able to go back to their own offices.”
Still, projects ranging from PennDOT’s reconfiguration of Union City’s key Route 6-Route 8 downtown intersection, a new municipal parking lot on South Main Street, downtown storefront façade improvements, upgrades to Caflisch Park, and others are moving forward.
Regarding PennDOT’s intersection project, Wells said the most recent information she received was in early April, when final plans were under review and PennDOT was working to resolve right-of-way approvals regarding the adjacent Rite-Aid and the railroad whose line runs through the intersection.
“They have both agreed, they just needed to get the documents signed,” said Wells. “If they got the signatures in April, they were hoping to advertise in May, open bids in June and begin work in July.
“It sounds like it’s still going to move ahead,” she added of the estimated $1.2 million project.
A new municipal parking lot across South Main Street from Union City Public Library is also in the works, with prospective designs being considered that will ultimately be taken to Union City Borough Council, and local nonprofit Union City Pride, which are collaborating on the initiative.
“I’m still shooting for it to get done this year,” she said of constructing the lot that will provide off-street parking on South Main for businesses and the library.
Funding for the parking lot initiative is coming from the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority’s Mission Main Street fund, and the Erie Community Foundation’s Shaping Tomorrow program. Union City Pride and the library are contributing the property on which it will sit.
Façade improvements to downtown buildings are ongoing in 2020, said Wells. The borough entered the year with $42,500 available in one-to-one matching grant funds to building owners, from ECGRA’s Mission Main Street program. Already the borough has three approved applications this year totaling $30,129, leaving $12,371 available to match additional projects, she said.
“I have talked to two additional businesses that are very interested and because of the restrictions on construction they have been waiting on their contractors to provide pricing,” she said.
The borough has also facilitated “structural assessment” initiative of some 19 historically contributing downtown buildings with the Pittsburgh-area company City Studio, which recently completed the borough’s downtown historic preservation plan. City Studio under the $76,000 initiative providing those property owners with comprehensive assessments of their buildings’ interiors and exteriors, funded by ECGRA and the Erie Community Foundation.
Building owners can then use those assessments to apply for an additional $42,500 in one-to-one matching funds provided by ECGRA, to address any identified issues. City Studio is wrapping up the final structural assessments, Wells said, and the funding applications will be opened to those building owners once they have all been received.
The Caflisch Park initiative, a $100,000 project being funded equally by the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development (DCED) and ECGRA’s Community Assets program, includes improvements in accessibility under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Planned improvements include an ADA-accessible walkway through the park, benches, trash receptacles, swings, and ADA-accessible picnic tables.
Wells said the project has been slowed somewhat by property deed work DCED requires, but that “at this point I’m still anticipating the work to be late summer into early fall.”
The borough is also working on a comprehensive plan for the community’s four public parks, a $60,000 initiative being funded with a $50,000 grant from DCED and $10,000 from the Union City Community Foundation. A parks planning committee was established in February, and a public survey made available to the community, but a public meeting that was to be held was canceled due to the pandemic.
“I believe we are on hold, other than the survey being completed, until we can have a public meeting,” said Wells. The online public survey is available for input through May 31 at surveymonkey.com/r/UCB-Recreation-Survey.
Another initiative that recently received the green light is a sidewalk improvement project leading to Union City Elementary School that combines funding from PennDOT, the borough and affected property owners.
Borough Council recently accepted a bid of $85,381 from Lindy Paving of Union City to reconstruct sidewalks and curbs where necessary on the south side of Johnson Street between Main and Miles streets, and the east side of Miles Street between Johnson Street and the elementary school.
That project is expected to begin in June or July, Wells said. She also noted the borough still has funds in its borough sidewalk program to assist property owners throughout the community in making improvements to their sidewalks. She noted she has approved one sidewalk application to date, and has received phone calls about the program.
Another new initiative aimed at the downtown recently got a boost from the Union City Community Foundation. Wells is seeking funds to conduct an improvement and feasibility analysis of the City Building that houses her office and the police department, to identify ADA and other improvements and the potential for using the building’s second floor for borough and community use.
She has applied to the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission for $25,000 toward the total $50,000 initiative, and will also apply to ECGRA’s Anchor Building program for $15,000 tow