Sometimes, a change in mindset alone can be a catalyst for change.
“I remember four or five years ago, there were actually feuds between groups,” said Connellsville city council member Ethan Keedy. “So many wanted to be the ones to ‘save’ Connellsville, but now it’s just about helping Connellsville and less about who gets credit for that.”
That move toward collaboration amongst city agencies, schools and organizations is a big reason the city continues to turn itself around, officials said.
At the heart of many of those partnerships is the Fayette County Cultural Trust, started by Michael Edwards, executive director of the city’s redevelopment authority.
Trust Executive Director Daniel Cocks said the organization started to get noticed for some small projects around town, such as walking heritage signs, public art displays and the Downtown Connellsville Main Street program.
“Through … past projects accomplishments, and the fact that we could be trusted to follow through on projects, we started getting the attention of some of the Pittsburgh foundations and the Allegheny Foundation,” he said.
Cocks agreed wholeheartedly that collaboration can prompt growth.
“Throughout many years, we have been working with many different organizations, mainly those looking for support and (who) shared our vision for a better quality of life for Connellsville residents and visitors alike,” he said. “I can honestly say that all the organizations that are working together to make Connellsville great have been touched by the cultural trust in some shape or form.”
Through the redevelopment authority, Edwards found funding for trash cans, benches and planters to be placed along North Pittsburgh Street to beautify and transform it into a gateway to the city. Eventually, trash cans, benches and planters were also purchased to place along Crawford Avenue.
Connellsville Area Career and Technical Center students entered the picture, building metal bird houses for placement in the city.
The trust funded that project and established the Connellsville Canteen, a museum/eatery that showcases Fayette County’s World War II veterans and provides a home for Harry Clark’s Indian Creek Valley Railroad display.
Since it opened, the Canteen has welcomed visitors from all over the world, received the Community Asset Enhancement Award from the state’s Downtown Center, and has been featured on the Travel Channel’s “Mysteries at the Museum” show.
The trust has also been active in enhancing the Greater Allegheny Passage (GAP) for bikers, partnering with the CTC students and Yough River Trail Council to add shelters and benches.
The Connellsville Garden Club further enhanced the trail with flowers, and the redevelopment authority and trail council installed water fountains and bike fixing stations.
Public art now encourages bikers to explore the city.
Connellsville, said Cocks, is full of great artists. He said the mural at the Italian Social Club near the bike trail is a project they’ve wanted to do for a long time.
“We thought this was an important location because it would draw people closer to the Crawford Bridge to possibly bring them over to the other side,” he said.
Another mural is planned on the other side of the bridge.
A lot has been accomplished, but for Cocks it’s all about the future.
“The most important takeaway for us is keep positive and going, have strong partners, improve the quality of life for everyone and be true to what you say you’ll do,” he said. “The city is moving forward because of the hard work of everyone that is making Connellsville a great place to live and visit.”