Wolf Administration Outlines How Restore Pennsylvania Could Help Lawrence Combat Blight, Expand Broadband Access

New Castle, PA – Today, Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) Deputy Secretary for Community Affairs Rick Vilello and Governor’s Office of Broadband Initiatives Acting Executive Director Sheri Collins joined local government officials, and business and community leaders for a roundtable discussion about the region’s challenges in its fight against blight and the efforts to expand broadband access. They also discussed how the bipartisan Restore Pennsylvania proposal could help municipalities address blight and close the digital divide.

“Blight is preventing Lawrence County communities from access to jobs, important investments, community and economic development,” Vilello said. “We can’t continue knowingly allowing the disparities between our rural and urban areas. It’s time to invest in programs like Restore Pennsylvania to see blight for what it is: economic opportunity.”

Restore Pennsylvania, the $4.5 billion bipartisan proposal funded through a commonsense severance tax, would increase financial resources at the local level to acquire and demolish blighted properties to create new development opportunities and provide new green space. It will also support broadband infrastructure at every phase of the process, from feasibility testing to connection.

“As we travel across the state, a common theme has been connecting many of our communities: the lack of broadband access is hampering Pennsylvanians ability to grow and expand,” Collins said. “It’s long overdue, we must act to provide statewide broadband access and increase educational and business opportunities for Lawrence County and Pennsylvania. We owe it to our residents, our students, and our businesses and entrepreneurs.”

According to New Castle’s Comprehensive Blight Strategy Plan, in the city alone the number of vacant units increased 36.2 percent between 2000 and 2010, which has created an additional financial strain for local government. Like many other communities across Pennsylvania, Lawrence County also struggles with lack of broadband access, which hinders students’ ability to learn, doctors’ ability to provide care, and the region’s ability to attract residents and businesses. Currently, local governments cannot fund broadband infrastructure or the demolition and redevelopment of most of their blighted properties themselves. If passed into law, Restore Pennsylvania would fund blight remediation efforts and broadband access at a level far beyond any existing funding mechanisms.

“Blight elimination is a critical component to the redevelopment of New Castle and Lawrence County as a whole,” said Linda Nitch, director of economic development at Lawrence County Regional Chamber of Commerce. “Between 2010 and 2015, we’ve demolished many structures. But as of the June 7, 2019, the City of New Castle has a list of 116 structures that are targeted for demolition, and more resources are needed. The creation of an additional funding source to aid the city and the county in its efforts to eliminate blight would be a welcome resource for the community.”

Restore Pennsylvania is a statewide plan to aggressively address the commonwealth’s vital infrastructure needs. Funded through a commonsense severance tax, Restore Pennsylvania is the only plan that will help make Pennsylvania a leader in the 21st century.

Learn more about what critical infrastructure could be fixed in your community by visiting the Restore Pennsylvania website.

For more information about the Department of Community and Economic Development, visit the DCED website, and be sure to stay up-to-date with all of our agency news on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Michael Gerber, DCED, 717.783.1132

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