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Pennsylvania Senator Tries to Spark Third Class Growth

Main Streets in many of Pennsylvania's mid-sized cities are struggling to survive. One Cambria County lawmaker is hoping that the state can help reverse the trend.

Senator John Wozniak (D-Cambria County) has introduced legislation that would send millions of dollars to the state's third class cities, including Johnstown. The measure would set aside $100 million in state budget grants each year for the next five years to fund economic development in 53 cities, including Harrisburg, New Castle, and McKeesport.

"We have to reinvigorate the economy, the economy of scale, to bring commercial and retailing back to the core cities," said Wozniak. "What comes with that will be the growth of the younger generation that would like to stay in the city, ergo the growth of the restaurants and all the venues that those people like to attend."

Wozniak calls his bill "Renaissance City" legislation. The communities would be eligible to apply for up to $1 million a year to fund economic development programs and public safety upgrades. Grants could also be used for neighborhood housing revitalization and the removal of blight.

Some cities are already starting to turn around their downtowns. "There's an interest in coming downtown and doing shopping, and actually some of the loft apartments and some of the vacant store fronts, people are moving in and fixing them up."

Wozniak realizes that the state budget is tight, but he's hoping that once the economy improves and state revenues increase, money will be earmarked to help the state's smaller cities. The Democrat says that he also wants to find ways to compensate municipalities for hosting large non-profit institutions such as hospitals that serve an area well beyond the borders of third class cities. Dealing with legacy costs is also a priority for Wozniak.

His bill is now before the Senate Urban Affairs & Housing Committee, but has not been called for a vote. Wozniak said that he would like to see Democrats and Republicans whose districts include third class cities band together as a voting block. "If we stand together, we can be more powerful than Pittsburgh and Philadelphia," said Wozniak.

WESA will be surveying Pennsylvania candidates for federal and state office for the 2022 general election — tell us which issues are most important to you.