The privately funded non-profit Erie Downtown Development Corporation founded earlier this year is moving forward with its mission is to transform Erie's core.  Tim NeCastro, President of the group's board is the driving force behind it.  As President and CEO of Fortune 500 firm Erie Insurance, he's also concerned with the fortune of his hometown.

The area the EDDC is focused on spans from Sassafras to Holland, and Perry Square heading north toward Presque Isle Bay, with a goal of making it more liveable.   NeCastro told us finding investors to help establish a $40-million real estate investment fund is proving to be an easy sell. "I'm very confident we can reach that goal, there is a tremendous outpouring in the community and I think that people would be surprised at how much wealth is in the community and really waiting for an opportunity to help Erie revitalize itself." Necastro said.

The model EDDC is emulating is the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation. It's turned neighborhoods of blight and crime, such as Over the Rhine, into desirable places live work and play.

Erie's focus is the area anchored by Erie insurance, and partners Gannon University and UPMC Hamot.

Although 25-thousand people work downtown daily, NeCastro says only 1,000 live downtown.  More people say they would, if the right housing options were available. "The quality housing available in downtown is fully occupied, the things that aren't occupied really don't meet the needs of constituents, the people that would use that housing," NeCastro said.   "We have many younger employees (at Erie Insurance) who would love to live downtown we have some employees that are near retirement that would love to live downtown, we also hear that the "docs" who come into town for UPMC Hamot would love to live downtown and Keith Taylor (Gannon University President) tells me that the professors that work at Gannon would love to live downtown as well."

The aim is to develop 50 to 75 housing units a year, and investors know they'll need amenities to go along with that, especially a grocery store.

The EDDC is also fund raising to staff its non-profit arm.  They are seeking donations of smaller amounts in three year commitments.  And they're looking for a CEO with a proven track record in another city.  The job description is posted on their website,  And there's plenty of interest. "We have tremendous interest," NeCastro said, "we are working with a consulting firm who's done some search work with us, just by putting out some preliminary feelers, we have a very high success rate of people demonstrating a lot of interest in the job."  And he said hiring the right person is key.  "That position is really crucial, we're looking for somebody that's done this before in another market so before we can fully plan what we want to do, and the sequence of those things, we need to have this person on staff."

NeCastro is anxious to start making the core of Erie a thriving place to live, and an even better place to work.