- Trail Town Assets and Business Corridor –
My work for the business corridor consisted of gathering additional assets for Connellsville that did not appear on the Fall 2021 asset map. Some of these places include additional eateries, a bakery, historic places to see, and shopping outlets.
To gather an idea of what Connellsville may need in terms of assets to bring in more permanent residents and visitors, I looked at several other GAP Trail towns as well as town along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Trails (C&O). While reviewing these varies towns my first observation is that many of them have more historical “charm” to them. Many of the towns play on their role in important events in American history such as John Brown’s unsuccessful abolitionist uprising in Harpers Ferry.
The first town I analyzed was Cumberland. Maryland. This small town connects the GAP Trail to the C&O Canal. While the town seems to lack many established places to eat, it houses a thriving historic and shopping district. Similar to Connellsville, Cumberland was once a busting industrial town housing glass, tire, textile, and other manufacturing plants. The town also housed several breweries. All these industries were removed from the town by the early 2000’s. Nestled along the Potomac River, Cumberland played a key role in the transportation of goods during the colonial and industrial days. The town, while no longer a major port city, stays connected to its historic roots through museums, site preservation, and other arts. Cumberland connected the GAP Trail and C&O Canal in 2006, connecting Connellsville to Washington D.C.
Some of the most popular places in Cumberland include parks, historic site visits, and museums. Many visitors stop by Rocky Gap State Park, which is perfect for hikers, campers, and the like. George Washington’s Headquarters is located in the towns Historic District along Greene Street. Here, the first U.S. President slept during the French Indian War. This building is closed to the public but houses wax figures, flags, and other historic artifacts from that era that visitors can view through the windows. The Gordon – Roberts House does in-costume tours of the preserved 1867 Victorian home built for C&O Canal president Josiah Gordon. The town has multiple theaters, hotels, and museums to attract tourists looking for some historic cultural charm.
Moving down the trail to Hancock, Maryland. Hancock plays similarly on their significant historic significance in American history. Although much smaller and less visited than its surrounding towns, Hancock boasts a number of museums and popular restaurants. With a much slower pace and old school vibes, Hancock is a popular spot for antique collectors and older trail blazers.
Moving further towards D.C. Harpers Ferry, West Virginia and Bolivar, Maryland are by far the most popular towns along the D.C. trail ways. Close enough to the Capital to benefit from tourists outside the trails, but further enough away to not be overwhelmed with tourism, everyday business, and politics, these towns thrive off their historic culture. The two towns are so close and connected it’s hard to believe they are separate entities. Most of the attractions surrounding these towns revolve around John Brown. A local historic figure known for planning and attempting a failed raid on the Harpers Ferry Armory in 1859. An abolitionist, Brown’s actions are said to be one of the catalysts leading into the Civil War. The towns now boast a multitude of museums, including a wax museum of historic figures, wineries, tours, parks, and tourable sites.
One could argue that outside D.C., Harpers Ferry and Bolivar are the most successful trail towns. Having a constant stream of tourists for a variety of industries keeps the town growing and thriving. I cannot say for certain how successful these towns really are in terms of economic revenue, but I can say they rarely seem calm and quiet even during winter months. These two towns play deeply on their historic value, building countless museums, including a new Black Voices Museum, tours, and even a casino and racetrack. These two towns have so much to offer and are more than willing to offer it up.
I chose to omit Washington D.C. in this comparison list due to the fact that these small towns are incomparable to the powerhouse of the capital. While the trails end in Washington D.C. the journey to get there can be just as fun if not more.
My first observation from these towns compared to Connellsville is they all play on their historic strengths and / or one schtick and stick to it. Connellsville has major historic significance even when compared to these towns and similar. Formally being one of the richest towns thanks to the abundance of coal mining and coke manufacturing formally in the area, the town once housed five major railroad stations, and made a name for itself in the 19th and 20th century. Of course, when coal mining left the U.S., the town began to face economic turmoil.
My one and only recommendation to boosting the business corridor along Connellsville’s GAP Trail is to continue investing in historic attractions and events. From my understanding, a lot of older folk ride the GAP Trail and C&O Canal to learn about early American history, and what’s more American than coal and coke? Playing on these historic facts could lead more people into stopping by the town, even if for only a few hours. While the Connellsville Canteen focuses on World War I / II, exploring venue to showcase the towns local history may fare better with history buffs and tourists. Our time this semester and last semester fail to showcase the unique and interesting historical context Connellsville played into during America’s Manufacturing era.
Merging into the survey Edwin and I did in regard to the use for the PNC Building in town, a lot of residents mentioned they desired more things for young kids and teenagers do to. Opening some sort of kid friendly event center / establishment may help to draw in more permanent residents.
Overall, Connellsville has a lot of growth ahead, but the large strides already made have set the community up for forward growth.
- PNC BUILDING –
My first task with the PNC building was of course, deciding what would work in the space. By the end of my researching and brainstorming I decided a co-working office space may work well somewhere in the building. As work from home culture persists and grows, more people are going to be looking for environments away from home to work. Admittedly, Connellsville has several office buildings, some even have office space to lease, but these are designed to house one or two companies depending on size. A co-working space is designed to accommodate workers from anyone to use. No one company would have control over the space and workers are meant to share it.
After presenting this idea with Michael and Dan, Ewdin and I devised heading down to Connellsville to get public opinions. In ordered to keep the development of the former PNC building underwraps, when survey, Edwin and I did not mention anything about it. While this kept the project under wraps, it also did not lead to the answers we were looking for in terms of a need for a co-working space. Almost every resident we spoke to mentioned wanting and needing more kid friendly establishments and infrastructure. Some citizens even mentioned a local drug problem among teenagers and older youths. And believing infrastructure like basketball and tennis courts, skateparks, and new playgrounds would help these prevalent issues, Edwin and I chose to recommend that as opposed to our original concept of the co-working space.
Before doing the survey, however, I was able to price out some of the options to set up a co-working space, in case the FCCT and Connellsville Re-Development Authority chose to continue with that option. While I was unable to price out how much it would cost to fully renovate the building, it was estimated at around a million dollars. After general renovation, the biggest cost would be the upfront price of furniture, decorations, internet, and the like. Things like lounging furniture, office desks and chairs, public computers if applicable, coffee machines, snacks, employee(s), etc. are all costs to be considered if moving forward with a co-working space. In order to pay for recurring costs like employees, utilities, and complementary snacks and drinks, customers would pay a fee. Whether they pay an hourly, weekly, monthly, etc. fee should be determined based off demand, bottom line, and profitability.
- PARCEL UPDATING
My last task for the FCCT Internship was updating some of the parcel information on the Arcgis online maps. This task proved a bit difficult due to a lack of information on abandoned and condemned buildings in town. Most of the parcels updated were residentially zoned, but many lacked structures / homes according to what I could find on Google Maps. Additionally, a lot of parcels did not have a clear owner or owners. However, the county website was useful in locating some of the missing parcel information. Google Maps / Google Earth was able to show me if parcels still had buildings on them as well.
4. WHAT I LEARNED
Working for the FCCT through the semester has been a tremendous experience. Developing my canvassing and interviewing skills was probably my favorite part of the internship. Researching cost analysis, start-up grants, and comparisons has also given me a head start in my job hunt. My recommendations for the FCCT are in the paragraphs above!