Year in Review: Revitalization near

– Eric Poole, Ledger Staff

This is the third in a series highlighting the five most important stories during 2009 in the Ellwood City area. Previous installments focused on the borough’s efforts to build a skateboard park and construction of a new library. The series will run through Thursday.

ELLWOOD CITY – By this time next year, Ellwood City’s downtown business district could be on its way to looking radically different than it does today.

The Ellwood City Revitalization committee unveiled its vision of Lawrence Avenue’s future in February. Since then, while the actual changes have been few, committee members have been working on behind-the-scenes efforts that are expected to yield visible results in 2010.

The committee is working with the Akron, Ohio-based architectural firm of EG&G on designs for the downtown district, which call for a community plaza, stage and a large pavilion for a permanent farmers market.

Lenore Bazzichi, president of the revitalization committee, said she envisions the stage as a venue for regular weekend performances that will draw people from beyond the Ellwood City area.

The plaza/stage will be along the 500 block of Lawrence Avenue on the current site of two lots, one empty and the other occupied by a vacant building that is now being demolished.

Depending upon the event, performances can be directed toward the plaza for a few hundred people or toward the Beaver Street parking lot’s current site for more than 1,000.

The parking lot will also be the site of a pavilion for a farmers market, which finished up its second year in summer 2009 and has been a success since its inception.

Design work is near completion, and Bazzichi said groundbreaking is scheduled for the middle of 2010, with work to be finished by the end of next year.

Through most of 2009, revitalization committee members have been seeking funds for the work, an effort that has met with success. The Hoyt Foundation, based in New Castle, gave the revitalization committee $350,000.

And the federal government is coming through as well, in the form of a $200,000 grant in the federal omnibus spending package and a $250,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, with grants expected next year through the state Department of Community and Economic Development.

After completion of the plaza and farmers market, the committee plans to work with business owners on streetscape modifications, including facade redesigns to bring building fronts to their original state.

Architect Dan Franus, a revitalization committee member, said plans also call for sidewalk cafe areas outside restaurants and other food establishments along Lawrence Avenue, and signs telling people how to access Ellwood City’s business district.