A major economic development and tourism project in eastern Erie County is one step closer to completion, thanks to a gift from Mercyhurst University.
Mercyhurst has donated the former bank building at 17 West Main Street to Downtown North East, Inc. (DNE) to be renovated as a local products store and tribute to Welch’s heritage. The facility will be owned and operated byDNE.
DNE is partnering with nationally known Welch’s, North East wineries, local food processors and regional artists to expand retail trade and tourism in historic North East. The community already hosts thousands of tourists annually during the summer months and special events such as its Fall Winefest and Cherry Festival. With Welch’s largest production facility located in North East, DNE hopes that this local products store, dedicated to Welch’s history and local area grape farmers, will bring additional visitors into North East on a regular basis.
The store will carry Welch’s fruit beverages, GrapeGear, and other products as well as local food products, North East wines, regional art work and school spirit merchandise. It will feature artifacts and information about Welch’s history and products. Rizzo’s Restaurant also will open a new restaurant in the building, expanding its menu and hours, to offer a unique dining experience across from Gibson Park. Plans include opening the former bank’s vault for special dining occasions.
“North East is an established tourist destination during boating, fishing and fruit and vegetable harvest seasons,” said Pat Federici, chairman of Downtown North East, the nonprofit development organization begun in 2009 to strengthen and promote the downtown. “This location will extend that reach by drawing families and travelers to experience the products of North East’s long, rich history of family farms.”
Federici acknowledged Mercyhurst as “an important part of what makes North East such a vibrant community. They are a terrific partner in helping us launch this project through the donation of such an historic and strategically located landmark in the heart of downtown.”
The gift also enabled DNE to obtain financing from First Niagara Bank, another key partner in completing the project, according to Federici. Grants from the North East Foundation, the Erie Community Foundation, the North East Community Chest and the North East Chamber of Commerce also will be used to complete the renovation and start-up, expected to take three to six months.
Mercyhurst University President Dr. Tom Gamble said the university’s gift to North East represents “one more chapter in the thick volume of Mercyhurst-North East cooperation and synergy.” He added, “The North East community has been a vital partner in Mercyhurst’s efforts to create the Mercyhurst North East campus. The community stepped up when we needed them and we are pleased to be able to reciprocate.”
Mercyhurst radio stationWYNE will remain in its present studio on the building’s second floor. DNE has located its offices there, and will eventually be providing office incubator space to interested parties.
For more information, contact John Piper, Economic Restructuring Committee Chairman, Downtown North East, 814-440-3639.