By Cathi Gerhard with Jarod Trunzo, LCRP Executive Director
Like many local families, mine has a multi-generational history of forefathers participating in the growth of new business and the changing face of Latrobe, Pennsylvania. In 1934, my great-grandfather (Welty Jobe) was a founding director of the new Commercial Bank & Trust of PA in Latrobe. My grandfather (Ed Davis) was a charter director in the development of VASCO Federal Credit Union, formed in 1967 by employees of the Venadium Alloys Steel Company in Latrobe.
My father (Shelly Gerhard) worked for PennDOT building and maintaining Westmoreland County roads that provide the infrastructure around the Latrobe area. He also spent over 40 years restoring the family farm in neighboring Derry Township with contour strips and several “new” organic agricultural practices.
In 2004, I began publishing the Laurel Mountain Post magazine “from the heart of Westmoreland County” … what I believe is Latrobe. Once considered another dying town amid the vast “rust belt” of the northeastern United States, Latrobe has come a long way in the past ten years alone: due in part to the work of the Latrobe Revitalization Committee, much of it behind the scenes until now.
Newly rebranded, The Latrobe Community Revitalization Program (A Nationally Accredited Main Street Program and 501(c) 3) is a community and economic development-based organization implementing a vision for a safer, more walkable, sustainable and family-oriented town. They work closely with business owners, all forms of leadership in the City, non profit and county organizations, and most importantly, the families and citizens who make Latrobe the gem of the Laurel Highlands. Shifting focus away from local events and toward beautification projects, LCRP Executive Director Jarod Trunzo walked me through some of the current projects already in progress around the city …
Lot Revitalization Initiative
Our first lot overhaul is inspired by Pulitzer Prize Winner Tom Hylton known for his approach to urban design and a sustainable infrastructure as written through “Save Our Lands, Save Our Towns.” We have had the first phase of our lot project approved in January, 2015 by a partnership with First National Bank and the Parking Authority which have joined us as generous co-sponsors and partners in this ambitious undertaking. We will remove the one light that resembles a mall/highway/car dealership appearance and replace it with three new single post pedestrian lights. We will also create two depressions in the concrete island and plant two special zelkova street trees. This will assist in providing shade for the vehicles in the summer months, stormwater management, traffic calming, a partial sound barrier, and over-all safety with the increased lighting. The second phase of this project will be announced later this year, stay tuned!
We have completed demolition of a burnt down bar in addition to securing the walls, repainting them, filling the gaps and leveling the lot which now has grass. For phase two, we have received a very competitive$25,000 grant from the CFWC (Community Foundation of Westmoreland County) to turn this into a more functional area free for the public to use. This will also help the adjacent businesses, and they are excited to see the implementation. It will have things like art, seating for eating and socializing, a center kiosk with a large map of downtown that will also show some upcoming events, a mixed use of concrete and grass, trees, flowers and will all be lit by solar lighting. We are also looking at ways to capture some of the Latrobe’s story and historical architecture, so we are looking at a way to tastefully incorporate that aspect within budget. Implementation will likely occur this summer or the latest in early fall. It will be a free gathering space for all to use. Neighboring business Francesca’s Cakery has already seen a boom in customer traffic since the lot was cleaned up!
This story was a special one because it is centered on a call I received from a lady who had lost her teenage granddaughter. Her family got together and sponsored a new park bench with her name on it to remember her by because, as her grandmother shared, she used to love downtown Latrobe.
Creative place-making addresses areas that are dilapidated or offer minimal to no use and makes them into more viable, functional and accessible areas for the public. These projects tend to offer temporary or permanent solutions to such troubled areas. We recently raised $10,000 for our Post Office project on Jefferson Street through multiple sources including the Westmoreland Realtors Assocication. After removing shrubs that were overgrown to the point of taking over nearly half of the sidewalk we will implement a nice, permanent design adjacent to Rogers Park that will see even heavier foot traffic upon the opening of WCCC. We will have completed the installation by the end of April. That area will soon be home to a new Historical Marker for Fred Rogers early next year, which we were very excited to have been awarded here in Latrobe.
Community Vegetable Gardens
The LCRP initiated the Latrobe Community Vegetable Gardens in partnership with the Latrobe Mini Garden Team that is responsible for planting thousands of flowers annually. Our goal is to give our residents, who may not have enough space for a garden at home, the opportunity to plant a vegetable garden of their own by providing well maintained, quality garden plots for them. We have over 30 vegetable plots for rent annually that are well kept by our team of volunteers who continue to make improvements.
This year a new, larger and stronger fence was installed as deer have actually began “visiting.” They do fill up almost instantly, but you can contact our office to see if we still have openings. If you have a green thumb and the gardens are full, we can also connect you to volunteer opportunities to help with the thousands of bulbs and other flowers that are planted and maintained during spring, summer and fall. For more information, please call (724) 805 – 0112 or send an e-mail to trunzo@ latrobereviatlization.org. PLOTS WILL SOON BE OPEN FOR THE 2015 SEASON!
The Facade Grant Program
We offer a dollar for dollar matching grant to downtown property (business) owners, up to $5,000 per street facing side. Working with our Design Committee, which includes a contractor and architect, we will work with your vision to beautify your storefront. This grant has given downtown businesses excellent momentum and has resulted not only in a new, beautiful storefront, but has led to an increase in customers. For instance, the Dollar General Store went from 50 to over 100 customers a day (on average) upon completion of their beautiful facade. Visit our website to see before and after photos or to see if your building is located in the zone and is eligible for grant dollars.
At present, the Historical Latanzio Building (aka Danceland) is underway for phase one, which is located across the street from the new WCCC campus. We are looking to secure an additional $30,000 to make more grants available for businesses in addition to what we have now. We are also confirming two other façade undertakings at present. Our new Design Architect, Steve Patricia, is really a great talent to have right now in our organization, as is the expanded role of George Fetkovich, who also serves as the Art Director for Saint Vincent College and Archabbey. Their work, combined with the rest of our committee, is the catalyst for so much good that lasts years. George is also responsible for our new logo.
The NEW Mr. Rogers Street Sign!
Consider replacing the old, green, antiquated street signs with this beautiful, custom-made street sign. This signature Trolley street sign will replace a street sign of your choosing! The sign pole will include a lifelong plaque with your choice of text to memorialize a family member, business, or community cause. Split up the cost of this with your neighbors, or if you are a business, consider buying several for the residents you serve! Join us in replacing hundreds of street signs over the next ten years until each street sign shows off Latrobe’s finest, in honor of the one and only Mr. Rogers!
So far, There is a lot of excitement over it. Latrobe just has so many great individuals and inventions attached with its proud history. But when you look at the “theme-ability” of Mr. Rogers and what he stood for, his message is so concretely aligned to where we are looking to go with a safer, more family-oriented and walkable core downtown and adjacent neighborhoods. Everyone wants a neat, clean town, so this very special partnership with the city of Latrobe, Special Lite Company and our organization is a another step in that direction. The quality of the new signs is what is making an impact compared against what is there now. The signs are part of an over-all series of streetscape improvements that will be rolled out this year. These improvements are positively correlated to the bigger picture of development that we are taking on as a community.
Westmoreland County Community College – Latrobe
This major development is changing the trajectory of our downtown in a positive way, showing real estate development in Latrobe is a great investment. We are managing growth for the first time in a long time, as opposed to managing decline. The market is already responding. Eight new businesses have opened in a little over a year in downtown Latrobe. I just met with another retail business–their new lease makes number nine. These entrepreneurs are relocating their entire business onto Ligonier Street downtown, a block away from the new WCCC, and they will open in May. The reality is that the cost per square foot for renting in downtown is much lower than other areas, and both vehicular and pedestrian traffic is increasing. Businesses and industry are growing at a very exciting rate in Latrobe right now, and we offer something unique you can’t always get.
The growth on route 30 and our downtown can co-exist and positively reinforce one another. Our parking garage is now open, we have a 24/7 police force with HD cameras and Rocky the drug dog, and one of the greatest park programs around, while we are also advancing plans nicely on two separate trails. We feel WCCC’s opening will bring some diversity and young life to our downtown. I am very proud of the work my fellow board members did years ago behind the scenes in helping the leadership of WCCC make the very difficult move to downtown a truly exciting reality.
Jarod Trunzo holds a Bachelor of Arts from UPJ in Management Information Systems and an MBA Cum Laude from the Graduate School of Business at FSU. He has also studied at an institute in Florence, Italy and has completed additional courses at Saint Vincent College. As a native of Western Pennsylvania, he has lived in Ohio, Philadelphia, Williamsport, Pittsburgh, Virginia, Tennessee, and has also spent six months in Europe. He and his wife, Bridgette, have three young daughters.
Latrobe Community Revitalization Program Quatrini-Rafferty Building, Latrobe Office: 724-805-0112