It’s the latest plan in what’s become a generations-old mission, but this time, the effort to revive downtown Erie comes with a different feel. It comes with the financial support of downtown’s biggest employers and it’s already been a success.
It’s been a fixture downtown for 30 years, and almost all of that time, Tickles Deli has been making lunch for Erie in the same West 4th Street spot. Busy for years, now something has changed. Sue Wyant, Owner of Tickles Deli, says, “I noticed a definite slowing down last summer. Things started to drag a little bit. By the time October came around, it slowed down tremendously. It was like, ‘Where’d everybody go?'”
A simple question, but not likely a simple answer. Tickles is in the heart of an area targeted by the Erie Downtown Development Corporation, Perry Square to 3rd Street, Sassafras to Holland. Tim Necastro, Erie Insurance CEO and Board Chair of the EDDC, says, “Our intent is to create a diverse population base downtown as an enticement to bring more businesses into downtown”.
Necastro says their idea sparked by $600 million in projects either planned or underway, including his company’s new building at 7th and French streets. “We said to ourselves, ‘this is not just a time to build a building, improve some parking lots or streetscaping on East 6th Street. This is a time to use this as a catalyst to transform Erie.'”
The backbone of the plan is private investment, fueling the effort without relying on government funding. According to Necastro, some of Erie’s biggest employers have committed $25 million and counting. That money will be used to buy and renovate buildings in the target area, street level business or retail space with mixed-income housing in the floors above. It’s a blueprint that’s already working in Cincinnati. Leaders there now trying to help Erie repeat their successes and avoid their mistakes.
Joe Rudemiller, 3CDC Spokesman, says, “I think the advice would be: stay committed to what you are doing. To not only form a plan, but stick with it to make sure you’re patient and you always are working toward that goal”.
Cincinnati’s version of EDDC got started in 2003, breathing new life into several areas including one of that city’s worst neighborhoods; now a thriving mix of businesses and homes. Rudemiller says, “I think one of the major reasons it worked here and why it will ultimately be successful in Erie is buy-in from the corporate community”.
Monsignor Henry Kreigel, Pastor of St. Patrick Church, says, “I’m excited beyond excitement about it”. Kreigel’s church is on the east edge of EDDC’s target area. Planners admit projects like this raise concerns about lower-income residents being pushed out, but Monsignor Kreigel doesn’t see that happening. “I think there’s a difference between pushing people out and reenergizing a neighborhood. I think there’s room for everyone in this neighborhood.”
Necastro says, “Our company itself owns several residential units in downtown and there’s constantly a waiting list for them… So, we don’t need to displace people to bring more people in.”
But, Necastro warns this is long-term so the plan will take time. Unfortunately, Sue Wyant doesn’t know if her business has that kind of time. She hopes the 30 years she’s invested in downtown counts for something.
As far as a timeline, Tim Necastro says EDDC has already identified properties in the 16 square block target area and are now figuring out which ones they would like to focus on first.