Published first on the Progress News, July 12, 2021

Local redevelopment was a bit more exciting than usual recently with a visit from US Congressman Glenn “GT” Thompson!  Congressman Thompson, who is a top proponent of rural redevelopment and is actively involved in policy related to agriculture, energy, healthcare, education, natural resources, and veterans affairs, is no stranger to the multifaceted nature of this work and was keen to see as much as he could of the many revitalization projects underway in the AC Valley.

We started with a brief tour of the Fuchs and Quaker State complex in Emlenton, sharing the progress of work on the site and an overview of our Community-Wide Brownfield Assessment project thus far.  Mark Miller, Vice President and Operations Manager of Moody and Associates, hydrogeologist, and our lead environmental consultant on the CWA project walked the Congressman through the issues and challenges facing redevelopment of the Emlenton site.  He discussed the next phase of assessment work, which is just getting started and is evidenced by white markers dotting the ground around the Fuchs buildings, indicating where samples will be taken in the coming weeks.  We were also able to share a first look at a redevelopment concept sketch showing the potential of the final restoration and reuse of the site, completed by designers Peter Quintanilla and Kirsten Compitello of Michael Baker International and based on the input received through our ongoing Vision Survey and the many, many conversations I have had with all of you over the last two years!

After braving the blazing sun along the river and talking about what will be, the Congressman, his District Director Brad Moore, and Emlenton Mayor Jamie Hunt were able to step into the cool relief of the almost-ready-to-open Emlenton Brewhaus and talk about what is, right now.  Wally Page, owner of the Brewhaus, and Jeff and Julie Powell, owners of the neighboring Little It Deli, spoke with Congressman Thompson about the joys and perils of operating food establishments in a tiny rural town.  They also spoke about the importance of cooperation and partnership, and the benefit of having multiple complementary businesses – a real-world, economic “the more the merrier” scenario!  The Brewhaus will indeed be a welcome complement to the Valley’s lineup of food and drink, and it was evident during the visit how supportive and cooperative a business climate we are fortunate to have!

The tour of Emlenton’s amazing business community continued with a quick stop to see Holly Schiberl at Otto’s Tavern, which was bustling with a mid-afternoon crowd, after which Dixie Gordon and her son Kris of Amazing Stitches kindly allowed the Congressman to take a shortcut back to Main Street, right through the store!   The shortcut also allowed Congressman Thompson to meet the unofficial mascot of Amazing Stitches, Bailey the dog, while chatting with Dixie and Kris and meeting the patrons browsing the quilting section of the store.  Our last business stop in Emlenton was at our area’s only family-run pharmacy, Linmas Drugs, where Pharmacist Matt Dreher spoke with the Congressman about the inequities in our pharmaceutical industry that make it hard for family-owned shops like his to stay afloat.  Defining the spirit of resilience and adaptability, however, Matt also shared the steps he and his wife Meghan have taken to diversify, including a fantastic collection of “Emlenton, PA” shirts and caps!

Since time for this visit was limited, we moved on to the Crawford Center, but Congressman Thompson expressed his desire to return for a longer trip to the Valley so that he could meet with all the business owners and residents in town.  It was on that uplifting note that we descended the stairs to the Boys and Girls Club Along the Allegheny, where the Congressman was greeted with “Welcome” signs the Club kids drew up in his honor!  The staff spoke about the upgrades to the Club over the last several years, largely thanks to the generosity of the local community, the kids shared their favorite Club experiences, and we were joined by Dave Staab, the founder of the Club and owner and editor of the Progress News and Staab Typographic.  After a final round of group photos and a few selfies, the tour continued on to the main floor of the Crawford Center to visit the Emlenton Borough office.  There, the Congressman was greeted by Borough Manager Nancy Marano, Councilor and owner of the Barnard House B&B Paul Kentzel, and Councilor and owner of Amy’s Closet Amy Whitehill, who shared the progress on the Borough’s splashpad project at the old public pool site in upper Emlenton.  Last but certainly not least, Congressman Thompson spent a few minutes chatting with Sandra Jackson and Rachel Brosnahan of The Coop Public Art Studio, discussing their experiences over the last year and their plans for the months to come.

With that, the Congressmen bade farewell (for now!) to Emlenton, and our group made its way downriver to Foxburg, where an AmeriCorps SMILES crew was waiting to share their progress on a rain garden project.  The project, meant to mitigate stormwater flows down a steep embankment where a blighted property was demolished last year, is just getting underway, and Keystone SMILES Executive Director Joyce Fosdick and Foxburg Borough Secretary Karen Best joined Jamie Hunt and the rest of the SMILES crew to show the Congressman their work and talk about the impact of the SMILES program in our region.  From there, we retreated inside once more, visiting Divani Chocolatier and cooling off with some tasty iced beverages while chatting with owner Melissa Bawa about the trends and shifts in Valley visitors over the last year and a half.  Thoroughly refreshed, we stopped in to visit with Debbie Mullins, the Manager at Foxburg Wine Cellars, and then with Jim Marron, co-owner of the Allegheny Grille, to talk about their recent experiences and plans for the future.

Next, we walked across to the Foxburg Free Library, where Congressman Thompson spoke with library Director LaTrobe Barnitz about the incredible slate of activities and events coming up over the next several months, and I picked up my kids’ weekly activity bags for the Summer Reading Challenge!  We wrapped up the Foxburg business tour with a stop into Foxburg Pizza, where owners Steve and Georgine Moores graciously welcomed the Congressman.  The Moores even arranged with ARCA Director John Soroka to allow for a private tour of historic Lincoln Hall, and an invitation to the upcoming Red, White & Wurlitzer concert on July 18th!  To complete Congressman Thompson’s visit, we made our way up the hill to the AC Valley School grounds to see the fledgling River Roots Community Farm.  The garden beds were bursting with green (and if anyone wants some zucchini, please let me know!), the frog pond was full from the recent rain, and the breeze was starting to cool things down, which made for a perfect ending to a lovely afternoon.

It was wonderful to see everyone’s projects, both business or community related (or, in many cases, a mix of both!), and I’d like to thank Brad from the Congressman’s Oil City office and Cindy Kunes from the Bellefonte office for organizing the visit, and our local businesses and organizations for welcoming the Congressman and giving him a glimpse of the spirit of collaboration and connectivity that is defining our current redevelopment renaissance.  I believe I speak for the entire Valley when I say that we look forward to welcoming Congressman Thompson back to our community again soon, with more partnerships, progress, and plans to share!