Donn Henderson sees the Charleroi riverfront development he wants 25 miles away in Pittsburgh.
“It’s not rocket science. There are plenty of examples,” said Henderson, manager of the borough, which will announce a redevelopment plan for the central business district Thursday. “Just look at the North Side. That’s a great model. The South Side, too.”
Re-creating Pittsburgh’s successes deep in Washington County’s Mon Valley will not be easy. But continuing to watch the once-thriving industrial and retail community lose population amid growing drug and crime problems certainly will accomplish nothing, Henderson said.
“We cannot continue that trend and survive,” he said.
Delta Development Group, a Mechanicsburg consulting firm, helped Charleroi officials and the Mon Valley Initiative design a guide for growth. They will present details of the 54-page Charleroi Business District Revitalization Plan, as it is officially known, to the public before council votes to adopt the work. “This will help us envision downtown and the rest of the community,” Henderson said.
The plan focuses on the area from 1st to 8th streets, stretching from Fallowfield Avenue to the Monongahela River. It suggests:
• Redeveloping the former high school football stadium on the river into a marina and boat yard and converting surrounding buildings into a small hotel and restaurant.
• Putting two buildings with apartments and offices in the parking lots around Chamber Plaza.
• Improving the look of sidewalks and buildings around the historic Coyle Theatre, the 1895 building that has been shuttered since 1999.
Officials have not attached any costs to their development dreams, but Henderson said he hopes to attract investors with possible tax credits and incentives and an incubator program to support small businesses.
“We have over 160 businesses operating in Charleroi,” Henderson said. “But we were once a retail-based community with over 300 businesses.”
Rudy Medved recalled Charleroi’s “shoe days” in his childhood, when the city’s 10 shoe stores collaborated on sales to attract crowds Downtown.
The owner of Medved Pharmacy on McKean Avenue remembered efforts in the 1980s that included sidewalk renovations and the addition of lighting and planters.
“That didn’t help back then,” said Medved, 60, of Washington. “Now, you’ve got all this crime and drug addiction. You’ve got to clean that up first.”
Henderson acknowledged the problem with drugs and crime has to be addressed before investors will consider his and others’ visions.
But he said the river, existing historic buildings and quaint infrastructure remaining from Charleroi’s heyday could be assets once that is accomplished — just as they were along the riverfronts in Pittsburgh
Medved hopes it is enough.
“It can be fixed,” he said. “It’s not like it is totally lost.”
Jason Cato is a writer for Trib Total Media.