By Jonathan Weaver
At the end of August, a Ford City ad-hoc action committee submitted eight proposals to the federal Economic Development Administration to satisfy a $580,000 defaulted grant on the former PPG property.
A copy of the eight proposals submitted to U.S. Department of Commerce – Economic Development Administration (EDA) Regional Director Willie Taylor and released yesterday revealed several different ideas to satisfy the grant requirement.
The ad-hoc committee, made up of Borough Council Members Vickie Schaub and Gene Banks, Planning Commission Member Tyson Klukan and Parks and Recreation Member Stacy Klukan, committed to approaching several regional and national companies about leasing or selling portions of the vacant 40-acre brown field property to create jobs, including Colt’s Manufacturing Company, LLC of Hartford, Conn., Glory on High Fireworks, LLC in Templeton, and Concordia, ACMH and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
A pair of ideas was also proposed to capitalize on the local tourism industry – by way of either creating jobs through a bike, kayak and boat rental program that would become a co-op with local bicycle shops, or even building an indoor Hawaiian Falls Water Park on the property through Ramaker and Associates – headquartered in Sauk City, Wisc.
Tyson and Stacy, a Parks and Recreation member for more than 10 years, both collaborated on the idea to utilize local tourism growth.
The pair combined their proposal with statistics from the State’s December 2013 edition of the “Economic Impact on Travel and Travel” – including that Armstrong County saw $89.8 million in tourism spending in 2012.
“There were multiple meetings because we had a deadline to meet – we had to act very quickly, and try to come up with the best proposals/ solutions that we could” Tyson said.
He is not nervous about the current situation, but hopes it can be resolved in a proper matter.
“There is a solution to this problem, and I think Ford City can deal with the matter,” Tyson said.
Ad-hoc committee members were also willing to sell or lease 300 acres of natural gas rights to EQT, valued at a one-time rate of $150,000 and listen to business leaders that moved into the community with help from the Middle Armstrong County Area Development Organization to help develop the remaining land.
Another idea involved enticing new employees to move into the area by way of a nearly-40 acre annual job fair/festival in town, in cooperation with Lenape Technical School in Manor Township.
The event is proposed to be held at BelleFlex Technologies (where PPG Foundary Building #2 used to be located) and invite upcoming graduates or employment seeking individuals.
Committee members are even open to negotiating other proposals.
“We entertain hope of luring another type of ‘worker’ to our community – the commuter, lured by the prospect of accessibility to Routes 28, 66 and 422,” the history portion concluded.
Borough officials continue helping Lenape Tech students train by utilizing Borough vehicles or shadowing with police officers.
Now-Borough Manager Eden Ratliff oversaw the ad-hoc committee’s several meetings during the summer before the proposals were due at the end of August, and said the defaulted grant repayment is one of the largest hurdles the community has to overcome.
“Willie Taylor and the EDA communicated to Ford City Borough about the grant default, and they asked that we come up with some proposals to send to them as a potential remedy to the previous council’s giving away of the property that was subject to the grant, Ratliff said.
“I’m confident (the proposals) could rectify the issue in the mind of Ford City Borough. We have to come to an agreement with the EDA.”
Council Vice-President Jerry Miklos has become involved with the negotiations since the ad-hoc committee dissolved in October. A community resident when the decision was initially made, he said it is a shame the Borough is still in this financial predicament, a problem he associated with poor decision making by former Borough leaders.
“I think it’s safe to say that we are working very closely with the EDA and hope to come to some resolution in the near term,” Miklos said. “We hope to be able to discuss this publicly as soon as possible.
“Hopefully, we can bring this to a palatable solution for the taxpayers. We need to bring this to a resolution – that’s what we’re working toward.”
In September 2000, the grant was utilized to rehabilitate the former PPG foundry along 2nd Avenue by the Greater Ford City Community Development Corporation and leased to Caracal manufacturing, but, bankruptcies by both the CDC and Caracal and Borough Council allowed for the building to be repossessed by F&M Bank.
It is now home to OEM Shades and BelleFlex Technologies after about $10 million in federal and state grant funding was invested into the revitalization of that building.
The bank foreclosed on the aforementioned property in December 2010 and was acquired by F&M Bank.
PPG Ford City Works employed as many as 4,000 workers at its peak before closing in 1992