Four members of the 2011 graduating class of Leadership Elk County (LEC) made a special presentation to members of the St. Marys City Council on Monday evening to highlight ways in which blighted areas of St. Marys could be transformed to become more viable. The LEC group consisted of Kim Kerchinski of St. Marys, Amy Shields of St. Marys, Shelly Meier of St. Marys and Amy Goode of Ridgway, who indicated that they had given the same presentation to their fellow LEC classmates a few weeks ago.
Kerchinski explained to council members that the 19 participants in this year's LEC class were divided into four different groups last fall and each team was presented with a particular issue.
"Each team was given a topic and a mission to work on during their off-time for a presentation at the end of our class," Kerchinski said.
Kerchinski, Goode, Meier and Shields were given a topic titled "From Blight to Flight" with the mission "to develop a project that will assist in revitalization for community businesses, recreation and/or housing improvement in our county."
Kerchinski provided council members and meeting attendees with a brief overview of the history of the area, noting that economic development in the county began with the timber industry, transitioned to coal and clay and then centered on the powdered metal industry. The decline of the manufacturing industry has resulted in a decline in the area's population as well.
Kerchinski noted that as individuals left the region, so did the capital that sustained downtown areas, leaving communities with blighted and unfilled storefronts.
In recent years, initiatives such as the Elm Street and Main Street programs, Impact St. Marys, and Community Development Block Grant surveys have provided a means to revitalize portions of the downtown area; however, the group indicated in their presentation that there is still a lot of work to be done. Some of their suggestions for making the downtown area a vibrant destination included adding more restaurants and specialty stores, opening a coffee house, and providing activities that are more family-oriented.