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Tamaqua Area Community Partnership

Tamaqua Area Community Partnership

Downtown Tamaqua, with banner advertising "Tamaqua Has Heart", a public arts initiative drawing attention to downtown, promoting tourism and showcasing local history.
Downtown Tamaqua, with banner advertising "Tamaqua Has Heart", a public arts initiative drawing attention to downtown, promoting tourism and showcasing local history.

For 23 years, Rural LISC has worked to make rural communities good places to live, work, do business and raise children.  Nowhere is this approach more apparent than in the rural community of Tamaqua, Pa., a borough of 7,000 people in Schuylkill County, in eastern Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal region.   

Coal mining was long a principal economic backbone of eastern Pennsylvania's anthracite coal region.
Coal mining was long a principal economic backbone of eastern Pennsylvania's anthracite coal region.

A coal mining and manufacturing hub, Tamaqua was a thriving community throughout the heyday of coal production in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but began declining, along with many other anthracite coal mining communities, in the 1950s as the mines began tapering off.

Tamaqua Train Station during the town's heyday.
Tamaqua Train Station during the town's heyday.
Tamaqua Train Station, abandoned and in disrepair, early 1970s.
Tamaqua Train Station, abandoned and in disrepair, early 1970s.

By the 1980s, after years of population decline and diminishing jobs prospects, Tamaqua had lost one-third of its residents and suffered substantial deterioration. During these years, a newspaper columnist called Tamaqua “the second dirtiest city in America.”  In the early 1990s, catalyzed by concerned and forward-thinking residents and a future-visioning exercise faciliated by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, a revitalization process began.  This new trajectory was given a substantial boost in 1996 with the formation of a local nonprofit charitable organization, the Tamaqua Area Community Partnership (TACP). TACP soon became a major player, restoring the town’s Depot Square Park, helping to restore the adjacent Tamaqua Train Station, developing recreational trails, community parks and recreation centers, and turning blighted and abandoned structures into useful assets in the community.

Micah Gursky, TACP's Executive Director, spoke to the organization's purpose, saying, "The Tamaqua Area Community Partnership was expressly created to improve the quality of life in the Tamaqua area; and to do so by being a conduit and a catalyst and a place for ideas and energy to go to accomplish improvements that will make a real difference in the lives of people who live here."

Tamaqua's restored Depot Square Park and Train Station today.
Tamaqua's restored Depot Square Park and Train Station today.

Tamaqua now features a bustling downtown, including the only historic district in the region – one that has attracted more than $5 million in investment. Its revitalization is so strong, in fact, that two representatives from the Pew Charitable Trusts recently paid a visit to see for themselves what the buzz was all about.

Pew Charitable Trusts visits Tamaqua, December 2017: Micah Gursky, TACP Executive Director, flanked by Pew Charitable Trust researchers with Rural LISC Program Director Andy Saavedra on right.
Pew Charitable Trusts visits Tamaqua, December 2017: Micah Gursky, TACP Executive Director, flanked by Pew Charitable Trust researchers with Rural LISC Program Director Andy Saavedra on right.

Pew was interested in seeing first-hand how community develop can work on the ground in a rural circumstance, and asked TACP to host two researchers for an in-depth study of TACP’s community development process.

It was a good opportunity for them to see a national, predominantly urban, model working in a rural community.
— Micah Gursky, TACP Executive Director

TACP joined forces with Rural LISC in 2009, becoming one of the first rural demonstration sites in LISC’s newly developed Building Sustainable Communities (BSC) program, a comprehensive, place-based approach to resident-led revitalization that would rapidly spread across LISC’s 31 urban and rural program sites.  BSC focused on a more comprehensive strategy, rather than the prior “silo” strategy many agencies employed. BSC’s focus areas included:

Tamaqua Area High School students participating in an after-school program.
Tamaqua Area High School students participating in an after-school program.
The LISC program has made a huge difference in Tamaqua. Tamaqua’s success would not have happened without Rural LISC, LISC and the ‘Sustainable Communities’ approach.
— Micah Gursky

TACP isn’t slowing down. With a $35,000 Capacity Building grant they plan to participate in affordable housing, economic development, health and safety, and arts and culture projects in the near future. TACP will continue downtown revitalization through the rehabilitation of Scheid’s Department Store. TACP will revitalize the building and utilize City Revitalization and Improvement Zone (CRIZ) funds to attract a brewery or distillery. TACP will also renovate the Berwick House Apartments, retaining ten units of affordable housing in Tamaqua. TACP will focus on health by partnering with St. Luke’s University Health Network on a rural dental clinic and a new residency program for rural primary care physicians.

Downtown Tamaqua today.
Downtown Tamaqua today.

TACP has also participated in Rural LISC’s Arts and Culture Cohesive Economic Development (ACCED) Initiative since its inception in 2015. Starting with the “Dear Tamaqua” project and the subsequent "Tamaqua Has Heart" initiative, TACP engaged community groups, residents and businesses through the sharing of their stories, memories and hopes for the future.

Photo credit: WNEP TV
Photo credit: WNEP TV

Through these initiatives over the last three years, the Tamaqua community has expressed great pride in their past along with a strong desire to further improve their present conditions; however expressions of residents' aspirations were undefined and unfinished. TACP plans to address this in 2018 with "Raw Aspirations,” a transformation of the "Tamaqua Has Heart" initiative dedicated to defining Tamaqua’s future through five art installations.  The new arts initiative aims to form a strong union between small communities, focusing on the importance of cross-collaboration and support for individual artists’ efforts.

Welcome to Tamaqua, an inspiring model of successful rural revitalization.

Visit the Tamaqua Area Community Partnership website for more information.

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