Erie organization works on expanding downtown area


People have their own opinion when they hear of downtown Erie. Some might think of Gannon University or Erie Insurance, others might think of their favorite restaurants or places to hangout, while still others might picture dark, empty buildings and dirty streets.
A negative image.
One thing that most people can agree on is that downtown Erie has a lot of potential, but needs help.
Downtown Erie has many things going on, but there are three things that need to be more utilized. First is the night life. There is not a single place in downtown Erie where you cannot walk to find a reasonably priced drink and dinner.
Whether you want to dance all night at Docksiders or Coconut Joes or have a more casual drink at Room 33, there is a bar for you without the cost of an Uber ride.
Unlike most cities, Erie is small, so people here have the luxury of grabbing a drink, eating a nice dinner and then dancing the night away all within walking distance.
Another thing that makes downtown Erie unique is the dining options.
Unlike Peach Street, which is filled with chain restaurants, downtown is home to many local gems. Restaurants like 1201 Kitchen, The Plymouth Tavern, Dave’s Diner, Calamari’s and Khao Thai are some of the local restaurants Erie has to offer.
In addition, many of these restaurants also take GU Gold, which is a big plus for Gannon students. No matter what you are in the mood for or how big your wallet is, you will easily be able to find something.
In addition to the night life and local restaurants, downtown Erie also has the entertainment factor. UPMC Park, Erie Insurance Arena, The Warner Theater and Junior’s Last Laugh are just a few places that make for a good night. From sports to plays to concerts, there is the possibility of something going on downtown all the time.
So when you put those three things together, downtown Erie sounds like a pretty fun place for all ages.
One man in particular noticed how much underutilized potential downtown Erie has and decided it was time for a change. John Persinger is the chief executive officer of the Erie Downtown Development Corp. (EDDC), a newly formed nonprofit organization that wants to turn Erie around. It was founded earlier this year and currently consists of three staff members and a board of directors.
“The EDDC is group of private sector organizations and community leaders who want to revitalize Erie,” said Persinger.
Persinger went on to say how the EDDC has three goals and four objectives on how to achieve these goals. The first goal is to increase the number of housing units in downtown Erie. To do this, the EDDC plans to acquire and redevelop commercial and residential real estate. The group’s second goal is to increase the number of businesses downtown. The EDDC plans to achieve this goal by attracting new business residences and investments.
Lastly, the organization’s third goal is to increase the quality of life in downtown Erie. There are two objectives on how it plans to achieve this goal. The first one is to support and enhance public spaces and the second is to create programming and activities that draw people downtown.
The EDCC wasted no time in getting to work. It recently purchased eight properties along North Park Row, West Fifth Street and State Street. Those include Sherlock’s and Park Place, Tandoori Hut, Dave’s Diner, Coconut Joe’s, 28 North Gastropub, Resolution Nightclub, Khao Thai and Casablanca Hookah Lounge. The purchase price for these properties was $2.95 million. All of the tenants have decided to stay in business, except Sherlock’s/Park Place. Persinger was very excited about this buy, saying how much strategic value this property has.
“This area fronts Perry Square, which is the heart of the city,” Persinger said.
He went on to say how this area is a total of 118,000 square feet filled with empty abandoned space that wasn’t being utilized. “It allows us to bring new life to the buildings and downtown,” Persinger said.
The EDDC hopes to bring some ground floor commercial places and some market rate housing on the second, third, and fourth floor of the Sherlock’s/Park Place property.
Kylie Kaspick, a senior marketing major at Gannon University, said she recently heard of The EDCC due to its purchase of the North Park Row property, mainly because she works at Coconut Joes, located a few doors down.
“I felt bad for the people I knew that worked there; however, it was a long time coming,” Kaspick said. “I’m excited to see new, hopefully local, businesses go into the building.”
Kaspick admitted she doesn’t know much about the EDDC, but she said she hopes that the group puts a lot of effort into what is developed there, because “the square” is central to the city of Erie.
Two other Gannon students had no idea what the EDDC was. However, they were both very upset about the closing of Sherlock’s and Park Place. “I loved going to Park Place,” said Grace Schaefer, a senior at Gannon. “They always had the best deals, so my wallet and I are both sad it’s gone.”
Ian Roth, on the other hand, had never been to Park Place, but was still equally as upset. “I’m not 21 yet, so I haven’t had the chance to go to Park Place or Sherlock’s,” he said. “But I used to hear all about their great deals from other people, so I was really looking forward to when I could go, but now I guess there goes that.”
Many Gannon students don’t know about The EDCC, but it might be a good idea for them to learn more about this organization and what it is doing for Erie.
Persinger said there really hasn’t been any backlash from the community regarding the buy of Sherlock’s/Park Place or in general about the EDDC. “People obviously have questions about our approach and about taxes, but we are paying taxes, which is a big win for the community,” he said. “We want to bring new life to buildings and be reassessed at higher value.”
Erie is already seeing changes being made. The EDDC is currently leasing the Cashier’s House on 417 State St. This building has been used as storage for the last 11 years. In 11 weeks, the EDDC moved its offices into the second floor, the third floor is being used for tech and first floor for events and activities. The EDDC has a lot up its sleeves for downtown Erie. “We are actively pursuing other properties, want to bring new life to Sherlock’s and we have a different array of events that will be going on downtown,” Persinger said.
In particular, there was a Flagship City Book Festival downtown on Sept. 28 and 29 that had book sellers and local authors, as well as activities for kids. “This event gives opportunities for people to write about the next chapter in Erie,” Persinger said.
The future of downtown Erie is up in the air, but there are a lot of organizations that are working to make it the best place it can be. Although, the EDDC focuses on a core section of Erie’s downtown, its work touches a lot of what other organizations are doing and vice versa. The Erie Downtown Development Corp. is currently working with every organization in Erie, including Our West Bayfront. Although all of this will not happen overnight, the EDDC has a lot in store for downtown Erie.

Mary Wassell

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