By Jonathan Weaver
After 21 years of being undeveloped, a company is interested in building along a riverfront property in Ford City Borough.
Borough Council Vice-President Jerry Miklos confirmed yesterday that a company expressed possible interest in at least a portion of the 48-acre brownfield near the Ford City Veterans Bridge, as well as other sites around the municipality.
Miklos and fellow councilman Gene Banks – both on the Economic Development Committee – met with Planning Commission Member Matt Lerner yesterday morning to reveal the news. He asked Lerner and other members to draft three subdivided site plans: of three and eight acres, as well as the entire parcel.
“We want to get this thing moving,” Miklos said. “(But) we don’t want to target it to this one individual – we want to open it up to everybody.”
Miklos said the interest came in about a week ago.
Borough Manager Eden Ratliff said the plan should also include connections to sewage and water utilities as well as the Rails to Trails
“We can’t start selling off pieces of property, attracting business to it without having a site plan. The committee would like to see a professional come in and do the site plan, but we need an idea of what we want,” Ratliff said. “Right now, the development of that brownfield rests in the Planning Commission’s hands.”
The plan will eventually be available for public review.
Lerner, a 1992 Armstrong Central graduate and lifelong Ford City resident, agreed that the brownfield –which was donated to Ford City after PPG closed – can be a marketable property.
“The fact that it’s riverfront property, I think will make it somewhat attractive,” Lerner said. “Especially if we can get the (Allegheny River) locks reopened – that would really open it up and make it more valuable then.”
The property can not be zoned residential.
Earlier this month at the Planning Development regular meeting, Zoning Hearing Board Chair Greg Dinko stated that approximately 12 years ago, the brownfield was designated a planned development park.
“Light industrial, commercial, no residential, medical facilities, and things like that can be put into there. Office space – there is a whole list that are accepted as far as what the zoning says down there.”
While the brownfield site is one spot businesses have expressed possible interest, Miklos said officials also have to look to the future and rejuvenate Downtown Ford City.
Lerner has talked to multiple residents that feel inconvenienced that there is not a grocery store in town since Spagnolo’s Foodland closed in June.
“It’s very difficult for a community to move forward without a grocery store,” Miklos agreed. “We have to find a way to bring a grocery store into this community.”
Lerner, who is also a member of the Armstrong County Historical Society, said one way to attract business might be promoting buildings several stories tall.
“Ford Street is confined, and only occupies part of the town and outward you probably only have a block on each side. So, there’s not a lot of room for a lot of businesses, but if we can take advantage of going up…,”
“It’s a pretty confined area – so if we keep the original buildings, that’s great, but at the same time, you’re limiting the space,” Lerner later added. “Those buildings are only so high and there’s only so many. What do you do to make more space for business to come in – you can go up or maybe even designating another part of town where a second business district can be located.
“Planning Commission has been wanting to move for a while on Borough redevelopment.”
Buildings beyond repair would have to be considered after engineer review.
Participants yesterday also agreed that a farmers’ market – pitched by fellow Economic Development member and Councilman Josh Abernathy in January – would be beneficial for the municipality, current and potentially new businesses.
Particularly Ford Street businesses.
“I can remember when my mom could do all of her shopping on Ford Street, buying us kids all the clothes we needed, and there was no need to leave town,” Lerner said. “We only went to Kittanning on special occasions.”
“We have to find a way to make Ford City an attractive place to come and do business,” Miklos concluded.
Input is also welcome from business owners and local residents at next week’s Planning Commission meeting