Cultivating Community in Southeast PA (Part 1)
Lansdowne Borough is a success story in the making, a small town that has completed several community revitalization projects with support from DCED’s Keystone Communities program as part of the Elm Street designation. We spoke with Deborah Brodeur, Executive Director of the Lansdowne Economic Development Corporation, to learn how DCED’s programs and resources have helped transform her community.
How has the state’s Keystone Elm Street designation program impacted your community?
Several years ago, the communities of Lansdowne and Yeadon joined together to save a large residential neighborhood that was part of both boroughs. The neighborhood was suffering and ultimately reached a tipping point where there were more renters and fewer homeowners, long-term residents were moving out, homes and buildings conditions were declining, and crime was increasing. There was a lack of sufficient funding for each borough to make a difference on its own. Things were starting to fall apart, and we knew something had to be done.
Fortunately, we were able to join DCED’s Keystone Communities program, which is committed to the revitalization of Pennsylvania’s older residential areas bordering main streets and central business districts. We participated in the program as the only “multi-municipal” Elm Street designation, supported by both the boroughs of Lansdowne and Yeadon. Over the last five years, the area has experienced a true transformation, thanks to the program funding, more than $1 million in private investments, and private and federal funding. This community has really turned around and is now a place where people want to live and work.
Now, we’re focusing on strengthening our relationship with our residents and businesses. Those stakeholders who participated in the planning process continue to volunteer and have a voice in what happens in the community. We’ve seen friendships and bonds continuing long after volunteer projects are over. Businesses are opening, and people are buying homes. We’re one community, and we’re growing stronger each day.
What kind of projects have you been working on?
We’ve really been full steam ahead with the Façade Program. We were granted $150,000 in façade funds through DCED’s Keystone Communities Program and received match money from other private and government entities over the five years of the program, totaling more than $600,000. To date, we’ve completed 19 houses and nine apartment buildings, which include 59 residential units. Even more exciting is seeing private investors and homeowners renovate their properties: nearly two dozen additional homes have been renovated by their owners with the help of bank loans and private financing.
We’re also tackling public improvement projects: sidewalks, street lights, new playgrounds, street trees, rain gardens, and barrels. We’re educating our residents on storm water runoff, addressing flooding issues, and inviting local artists to decorate benches for our public parks.
Cultivating relationships and partnerships has been critical. For example, Habitat for Humanity — the world’s largest nonprofit homebuilder — purchased two vacant lots to build new townhouses and the Delaware Community Action Agency is targeting their lead-paint hazard control program here.
While we are proud of the work that has been done, we know that we are far from finished. We were recently approved to be a DCED-designated Keystone Main Street and are trying to secure more grant funding to repair commercial buildings in our downtown. We’re not solely focused on façade repair — we’re also working to strengthen the community by capitalizing on the many artists and creative folks who live in Lansdowne.
What is one thing you want people to know about Lansdowne?
We want to do what we can to make our community stand out and let the world know that Lansdowne has a hidden arts scene. We want to develop an entertainment district featuring concert and music venues. We have a very successful farmers market and the Lansdowne Landing public park, and we want to really showcase the incredibly talented and creative folks here — musicians, artists, photographers, architects, graphic designers, crafters, and more.
We are in the process of opening the area’s first creative co-working space using DCED funding. The idea for this space came from four very specific needs: we wanted to provide affordable studio space for artists and creative professionals, renovate and occupy a building that had been vacant more than 10 years, generate a revenue stream for our nonprofit, and jumpstart the revitalization of the downtown area.
Lansdowne is truly a great place to live and work: our area residents can be in Philadelphia in 15 minutes, we have affordable housing, and our workforce is well-educated and skilled. But it’s truly the people that live and work here that make Lansdowne the great community it is. We understand that our relationships are key — Lansdowne Economic Development Corporation couldn’t do what we do on our own. Our partnerships with borough leaders, nonprofits, business owners, residents, funders — that’s what will ultimately turn this community around. We’re so proud of what we’ve accomplished in just the past few years, and we’re looking forward to the exciting changes ahead.
Visit the Lansdowne Economic Development Corporation website to learn more about their work in the community. To learn more about Pennsylvania’s Keystone Communities program visit the DCED website and continue to stay up-to-date on all Pennsylvania company news by following us on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, or by signing up for our monthly e-newsletter.
Debbie Brodeur spent her entire career in the nonprofit sector working on neighborhood revitalization, commercial and residential development, fundraising, and grant writing. While working for a nonprofit that renovated and flipped homes in Lansdowne, she wrote and eventually implemented the community’s plan and grant for the Elm Street Program. Now, Deborah serves as the Executive Director of the Lansdowne Economic Development Corporation.