< View Recent News

Union City renaissance

November 22, 2023

Union City renaissance: Changes have been 'wonderful' and there are more to come in 2024

The southeastern Erie County town has been awarded more than $6 million in grants since 2009 to help fund its revitalization

UNION CITY — Union City has been re-inventing itself for more than a decade.

Updated parks, home and business facade improvements, additional downtown parking, a downtown mural and an outdoor "gateway" courtyard have been among the town's revitalization projects.

And there are more improvements coming in 2024.

"People who come home to Union City say that they can't believe the changes," said Union City Borough Manager Cindy Wells. "It's very different than it was even a few years ago."

The downtown revitalization has been fueled by more than $6 million in state, county and local grants since 2009.

"I think it's all been put to good use," said Mary Lou Rose, who lives and works in Union City. "A lot of thought and work went into the improvements. The changes have been wonderful."

The new gateway to Union City

Chief among the changes was the demolition of the once iconic Union City Dinor at the corner of Main and High streets last fall.

The building had been vacant for decades and was purchased along with an adjacent building in 2019. After studies determined that the building had deteriorated beyond repair, it was demolished last year and replaced this year with a new "gateway" courtyard.

The concrete courtyard is bounded by brick pillars and iron fencing. There's also a new stairway to lower-level public parking and a "dinor-like" look for the adjacent building owned by the community.

Brick pillars and iron railings likewise enclose Industrial Park, across High Street from the gateway.

A Christmas tree will be lighted in the gateway courtyard during a "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" event including carriage rides, carols and story time with Mrs. Claus on Nov. 25.

"It's something new. I think it will bring people downtown and give them a chance to look at the shops and know what's here," Rose said.

Other Union City projects completed this year include a new playground and accessible parking area at Southwest Park and the installation of an electronic message sign on North Main Street.

Coming in 2024

New murals, downtown lighting and an events pavilion are expected to be completed next year.

LED lights will be strung along the tops of downtown buildings and on trees around the new public parking lot across Main Street from Union City Public Library to illuminate the downtown each evening.

A pavilion to be built behind the parking lot will be available for library story times and other public events.

Three new murals that will overlook the downtown gateway will be painted by the Looking Glass Art Project, comprised of Erie artists Thomas Ferraro, Edward Grout and Steve Mik. It's the same collaborative that painted and installed a South Main Street mural dedicated in 2021 for the 150th anniversary of Union City's naming.

Union City art students, senior citizens and the general public are being asked to share ideas for the murals. The public meetings on the project will be held at First Global Methodist Church, 42 E. High St., on Nov. 29 at 6:30 p.m. and at the American Legion post, 9225 Route 6, on Dec. 2 at 10 a.m.

Ferraro said the meetings with students, seniors and the general public are intended to reach a multi-generational consensus about what the murals should contain. Community members will be asked for ideas, words, colors and styles that should be included in the murals.

"That's our content; that's how we put things together," Ferraro said. Going into a project, he said, "we never quite know where the content's going to land."

The artists will present their design ideas to community leaders early in 2024. The final designs will be painted on fabric for greater longevity and installed on downtown buildings later next year.

"It's almost like putting up wallpaper," Wells said.

Also coming in 2024 will be new sidewalks along portions of Willow, Bridge and Concord streets; a new Willow Street bridge; and accessibility improvements at the City Building, among other projects.

The funding

The laundry list of Union City improvements in recent years was made possible by a host of state agencies, foundations and other funding sources.

Major grants were from the Erie Community Foundation, Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority, Union City Community Foundation, Erie County Redevelopment Authority, Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, and Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

There was funding, too, from Union City Borough, Union City Pride, LECOM, Erie Insurance, MFG Corp. of Union City, and Union City Lions and Union City Little League.

The list — both of improvements and funding — goes on.

Familiarity with the various funding sources and grant programs has been essential to the town's success in obtaining grants, Wells said.

The borough additionally works with the EADS Group in Clarion to provide the engineering plans required for some grants, Wells said.

Teamwork by community organizations, Wells said, also is essential.

"Union City Borough, Union City Community Foundation and Union City Action all work together on projects and funding," Wells said. "They're our three-legged stool."

Contact Valerie Myers at vmyers@timesnews.com.


Steve Bishop and Ciny Wells inside the old Dinor


Gateway to Union City's downtown


New Mural on Main Street