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Pat Howard: Start of runway work illustrates sporadic progress on regionalism

 Pat Howard: Start of runway work illustrates sporadic progress on regionalismAdvertisement

As I use this space week after week to offer my version of where the Erie region’s at and where it needs to go, I frequently get pushback from sour or discouraged people that boils down to a simple question.

It wouldn’t/shouldn’t/couldn’t happen here, whatever it is, even if it works in other places. This is Erie.

The day I give up on Erie is the day I’ll stop typing. Doing otherwise would make me part of the problem.

The flip side is that blind boosterism can be almost as dangerous as defeatism. It tends to equate enthusiasm with competence and to use optimism as cover for inertia.

Still, it’s useful to pause now and then to consider things that have gone right. they encourage us to keep pushing.

That occurred to me Thursday evening as I drove my mother to dinner through the serpentine curves that bend Powell Avenue around the end of Erie International Airport’s runway. The earthmovers have been at work beside the road, in preparation for reshaping Powell into a new roundabout farther east and extending the runway and the safety buffers at each end.

Valerie Myers’ Times In-Depth report on today’s front page does an excellent job of laying out why the project matters. A more functional, flexible and, for airlines, profitable airport won’t guarantee big economic dividends, of course, but it improves our chances.

Myers’ piece also captures the dogged persistence of airport officials and the civic and business groups that for many years pushed the plan and its potential. in the end, success also required political stomach from elected officials in county government who, in the face of noisy opposition and sticker shock, committed the final $20 million-plus to the $83 million project and turned decades of talk and preparation into the rumble of heavy equipment.

The county’s assumption of responsibility for the airport’s future, and the related transformation of its governing board into a regional body, also illustrates how the county has been supplanting the city of Erie as the governmental steward of the regional big picture. The city owns the airport but was in no position financially to push it forward, and it no longer made sense for it to shoulder that load in any event.

The same holds true for other public assets that are located in the city but serve the larger region’s population and quality of life. City Hall was still in charge of the action that created the Tullio Arena and Jerry Uht Park, for example, but no one could credibly argue the facilities’ appeal and value were defined by municipal boundaries.

That reality was recognized when those venues were consolidated with the new Bayfront Convention Center under the Erie County Convention Center Authority. when the time came to pony up local cash to expand Uht Park and leverage $32 million in state funding to renovate the aging arena next door, those were no longer city decisions or obligations, though city residents still pay their share.

It’s fair to argue, as a good many citizens have, that government has no business subsidizing public amenities that private investment won’t support. but if we’re going to have them, and I’m glad we do, it’s progress that they’re now governed and funded on a regional basis for regional benefit.

While the process has been by turns messy, contentious and litigious, a similar dynamic is playing out in distributing gambling proceeds from Presque Isle Downs & Casino to the Erie Zoo and other regional assets through the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority. The authority on Thursday approved nearly $1.3 million in grants to nine arts, historical and educational attractions and groups.

Such moves toward regionalism aren’t the only areas where the big picture is gradually and sporadically coming into focus. while there’s still a glaring shortage of political leadership on some of our thorniest and most consequential problems, key players in the region are trying to generate forward motion.

The Erie Community Foundation and the United Way of Erie County, among others, have stepped out in front on issues such as soaring poverty and lagging educational achievement and the ways in which those and other community pathologies are connected. It remains to be seen how successfully those efforts will bridge the gap between well-intentioned dialogue and real-world clout and results, but already they’re better than waiting for some political and electoral epiphany to fill the void.

None of what I’ve cited is enough, not nearly, and I don’t expect to run out of reasons to roll my eyes and shake my head. but there has been cause now and then to pump my fist, as riding past those mounds of dirt off Powell Avenue the other night reminded me.

Write to Managing Editor Pat Howard at 205 W. 12th St., Erie, PA 16534, or e-mail him at

<a href=",2005:cluster=, 17 Jul 2011 04:09:18 GMT 00:00″>Pat Howard: Start of runway work illustrates sporadic progress on regionalism

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