Last year at this time Pittston looked more like a war zone than a popular festival center. The sewer and Streetscape projects were ongoing and Main Street in the festival lot block was a maze of traffic cones, barricades, trenches, heavy construction equipment, dumpsters and torn up sidewalks.
At times, the downtown even smelled bad.
As Mike Lombardo of the Tomato Festival Committee put it at the time, "Main has been like a slalom course, go left, go right. We just have to deal with it. We're calling this the suck it up year and reminding everybody the inconvenience is caused by progress."
Jokingly, Lombardo recommended the festival T-shirts should sport a logo with a tomato surrounded by construction barriers.
Downtown manager Rose Randazzo, whose law office was in the middle of the mess, said, "One more year to bear and it will look like a different town."
Was she ever right.
Downtown Pittston does look like a different town, so much so that festival-goers who haven't been to Pittston since last August might feel lost.
Manager Joe Moskovitz said the improvements are just a start. "I learned in Pittston there are a lot of doubters. Now the improvements are evident. The city is looking the best it has decades. This is not the end, it's the beginning."
Since last year's festival, the sewer project was completed, the affected streets were paved and the foul odor is gone. Phase II of the Streetscape was completed, beautifying the area with brick crosswalks, period lighting and new sidewalks and curbs.
Also, flower beds were landscaped along the curb line, doors were decorated by an artist from ArtSeen, two deteriorating buildings were demolished, new businesses signage was erected, retro facades were constructed on several storefronts, the Open Space with its vintage-style theater marquee debuted and new businesses either opened or committed to opening in the downtown.
Also work began on the "pocket park" next to the stunning Napoli Pizza storefront and on the old Bottoms Up bar which is being restored by the Partash brothers, giving it an historical look inside and out.
The eye-popping new look downtown has led to a renaissance of professional offices and nightlife in the central blocks. Outdoor dining under the 1920s neon Palazzo sign puts out a New York City vibe, while live music at Rooney's Irish Pub and occasionally the Knights of Columbus adds to the weekend buzz.
Also, the Tomato Mule is back on Main Street, overlooking all the work. And Pittston's got its own Mrs. Clean, too - seasonal employee Angela Biscotto who keeps the downtown swept and weeded.
Put it this way: in a year's time the heart of downtown went from a torn up, smelly mess to a clean, safe area where visitors might browse antique and collectible shops and art galleries, shop an upscale clothing outlet, grab a slice of New York-style pizza, have a martini at a vintage glass block bar, tip a pint in an Irish pub, play a round of billiards and kibitz over gourmet coffee and homemade specialty pastries.
So what does Randazzo say now?
"I am so thrilled with the project and I owe it all to a great mayor, council and redevelopment office that gave us the resources to get it done."
As Moskovitz said, there's more to come. Three more buildings, including the former LaFratte's Restaurant are being considered for historical restoration. The Gilbro project on the corner of William and Main will bring more business to the city. And living space is on the way, too, with apartment units pegged for the Burne Building and the Riverfront Condominiums.
The work is being funded by a $3 million Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant released in November 2010.