Anthony T. Skender | MRCDC
It’s a given that communities thrive or decline based upon the amount and value of the property within its borders.
With the collapse of the steel industry and other related fields, decades of economic decline, concentrated poverty, and widespread vacant and dilapidated properties have devastated the tax base and the vitality of communities across Pennsylvania.
While many of these communities benefit from a state tax credit program called the Neighborhood Assistance Program (NAP), other deserving communities are unable to do so because since its inception in the early-1970s the statewide funding cap for NAP has remained stagnant at $18 million.
This program works by creating partnerships between the business community, government and grassroots community development organizations to help focus investment on underserved communities throughout the state including the McKees Rocks and Stowe Township communities here in Allegheny County. NAP helps community development organizations like the ones launched in McKees Rocks in 2003, Wilkinsburg in 2007 and Lawrenceville in the mid-1980s to work toward revitalizing their communities using this tax credit funding.
NAP has been critical to the success shown in McKees Rocks. With increased capacity from this tax credit program, the McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation (MRCDC) has been making substantial progress in recent years.
MRCDC has implemented a Main Street Revitalization plan, which includes restoration of two-way traffic in the business district, along with a pilot program for façade improvements of main street businesses. The group’s efforts to facilitate the location of the $60 million CSX Intermodal facility included a community benefits agreement with CSX for the community. After the acquisition of the 1920’s Warner-style Roxian Theatre, the MRCDC secured investors and developers to begin a $9 million renovation, with plans to re-open in 2019 as a 1,500-capacity live entertainment venue. The MRCDC helped to locate the site of the 24,000 sq. ft. Phantom Robotix headquarters. A rework of the town’s zoning code written in 1974 is being completed through a Municipal Assistance Grant acquired by the MRCDC. The new code will protect against uses of property that would adversely affect future development and investment.
MRCDC has worked with the community in the renovation of a community park and gardens.They have helped organize a Youth Partnership Program and a Community Resource Center with various community organizations. Finally, they were selected by the Allegheny Conference to be part of the “Strengthening Communities Partnership,” which has increased capacity and expertise.
These accomplishments, while substantial, should not suggest that everything is great in Sto-Rox, but rather that a brighter future is possible for the area.
It’s critical that programs that are working be able to continue their transformative effects and at the same time allow other underserved communities to begin work on these same type of opportunities.
Currently, this tax credit program annually yields $50 million in requests with matching corporate commitments for funding being made. More than half of these requests are rejected as a result of the program’s funding cap.
Legislators should know that the NAP program is having a positive impact on struggling communities across the state and that a funding increase is long overdue. Please join us in asking your legislators to double the cap on the NAP tax credits to $36 million per year.
Anthony Skender is board president of the McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation and a former superintendent of the Sto-Rox and Chartiers Valley school districts.