Johnstown’s Growing Business Economy

In 2016, Forbes Magazine listed the City of Johnstown in the top 200 “Best Small Places for Business and Careers.” Such a distinction is based in no small part to the strategy of the City’s Department of Economic Development that has focused on creating a vibrant, exciting place where people want to live. The City of Johnstown is unique among its counterparts in that there are significant community partners working with the City on revitalization efforts.

A city is only as strong as its Central Business District and Johnstown has the Discover Downtown Johnstown Partnership (DDJP) to thank for the various initiatives to help make the downtown a more inviting place for customers, business and residents. Throughout the year, the DDJP engages in various activities including sponsoring the light night and Christmas tree in Central Park, operation clean sweep, community gardens which are open to the public, Movies in the Park, and sponsors an annual Taste and Tour event of downtown Johnstown which showcases the shops and restaurants while on a walking tour of the City.

The DDJP has recently acquired a $12,000 Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources grant for a Main Street greenway plan. This study, which will be completed by September 2017, will include the suggested addition of greenery, benches and other streetscape enhancement elements to make Main Street more appealing.

The City of Johnstown recognizes and wants to protect the historic nature of each neighborhood during the revitalization stages. Most recently, Cambria City was approved with a zoned historic overlay district, which will provide sustainability to promote the general welfare of residents, businesses and recreational facilities through preservation and enhancement of the buildings, structures, places, landscapes, and areas that have historical, cultural, and architectural significance.

One project in Cambria City was spearheaded by the non-profit organization 1901 Church, Inc., who purchased three former Catholic churches and created a grassroots initiative called The Steeples Project. In order to maintain the historic integrity of these churches, 1901 Church, Inc. obtained a conservation easement which obligates the owner of the property to maintain the exterior and certain interior elements in perpetuity. Since its inception in 2011, The Steeples Project has overseen the renovation of the former Immaculate Conception church which was reopened in 2012 as “The Grand Halle on Broad Street” and features monthly concerts and has become a wedding and special event rental venue.

In effort to complete an overall revitalization plan for Cambria City, the City has received funding and is nearing completion of the Cambria City Phase II plan, which will include recommendations for welcome and way-finding signage, façade improvements, and streetscape enhancements. A newly formed group, Friends of Cambria City, is the first to secure funding in order to implement a streetscape enhancement which will include new benches, trash and recycling receptacles, planters and lighting at key intersections. The funding was secured from a capture award through Vision 2025.

Vision 2025 is an all-volunteer organization that works to better the Johnstown region. There are three main groups within Vision 2025 that focus on three main strategies: Community, Economy and Landscapes. Each of the three main groups contains smaller groups called “capture teams” who create implement priority projects in the Johnstown area. In order to bring a priority project to fruition, Vision 2025 has secured funding in order to grant monies called a “capture award.” These priority projects are submitted to and reviewed by the Vision 2025 steering committee and awards of up to $1,000 are granted in order to leverage additional funding or complete the project. Vision 2025 is also working on a community vision including city-wide blight elimination and river repair and restoration projects. One initiative for the river restoration project is through the United States Army Corps of Engineers, who are currently conducting a feasibility study on the types of flood protection that will best serve Johnstown in the coming years.

With over 1,300 properties which need to be demolished and scarce funding resources to complete the demolitions, the City allocates approximately $200,000 each year from the Community Development Block Grant funds through Housing and Urban Development. By using federal funds, the City is required to confirm if a potential demolition site is either in a Historic District or if the structure is of historic significance. The data on the Districts and structures is not complete; therefore, the City is in the process of securing funds to complete a Historic Property Survey which will provide the information on each site. The City is also working with retired planners in an effort to catalog an inventory of available properties located in the City. Once completed, the City will market and share the property information on the City’s website. Another marketing effort for vacant lots is through a partnership between the City and the Johnstown Redevelopment Authority (JRA) that will focus on selling over seventy lots, which are owned by the JRA, to adjoining neighbors.

In order to continue participating in the ongoing revitalization efforts by the various public, private and volunteer agencies, the City is committed to partnering with these groups to continue the efforts to make Johnstown a vibrant and thriving community.