Robin L. Quillon
While the Thunder in the Valley spotlight shone brightly on our entire region, we smiled with pride as visitors and locals alike marveled at Johnstown’s beautiful Peoples Natural Gas Park, a prime rally site.
Key amenities are the refurbished Oil House with its 600-seat Polacek pavilion and new sidewalks winding through eye-pleasing landscaping dotted with flowers planted by the Garden Club of Johnstown. Particularly encouraging is that Johnstown Area Heritage Association, its owner, has positioned this 3.5-acre jewel as a viable player in promoting revitalization for the city’s downtown.
“The idea is to bring people downtown, to provide another reason to come into the city. It’s a cool package with Stone Bridge,” said JAHA president and CEO Richard Burkert, also referring to his organization’s bridge-lighting accomplishments.
Some $2.5 million in funding, including a $500,000 donation from PNG and a state grant, went toward the park’s phase one project.
Hopefully, there’s more to come, Burkert said. A $1.5 million plan would be done incrementally as funding becomes available. Included would be sound insulation for the Oil House, a catering facility, additional restrooms, permanent vending facilities and expanded utility lines.
“We’ve already started a silent phase of a capital campaign, seeking private funding,” Burkert noted.
Additional money comes from smaller events held at the park, something JAHA hopes to expand on.
“We’ve had concerts, weddings. We had a picnic and awards program for the Lantzy football game (held earlier this month). We even had a revival,” Burkert said.
Additional funding opportunities will come this summer with the always-popular AmeriServ Flood City Music Festival on Aug. 2-4 and with Summer Concert Series presentations on July 19, Aug. 9 and Sept. 13.
Burkert, always quick and willing to promote Johnstown, readily touts what PNG park offers our region.
“It essentially was an abandoned brownfield that wasn’t very attractive. It was something we thought about, though, for 10 years,” Burkert said. “We needed a secure, dedicated property away from Cambria City.”
He was referring, of course, to breaking long ties in that neighborhood and with the then-immensely popular Johnstown FolkFest, something that even today doesn’t sit well with some people.
Looking to what has resulted and to future opportunities available at PNG park, it would be wrong today to continue criticizing JAHA’s decision.
“(The park) presents Johnstown well. It sits where the three rivers come together and you can easily see the Inclined Plane and it can be seen from Roosevelt Boulevard,” Burkert noted.
“Unlike Point Stadium, it can be used informally. With the bridge’s special light shows performed to music, it fits in well with Thunder.”
It certainly does, as well as with plans for Johnstown’s revitalization.
Our region has a wonderful, hardworking organization in Johnstown Area Heritage Association, and a gem in Peoples Natural Gas Park.
If you haven’t been to the park, treat yourself soon.