Reading Mayor Outlines Progress Made During 1st Year In Office

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsyl...

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsylvania area. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer not only used his annual “State of the City” speech Thursday to outline the progress he made his first year in office in 2012, but also to criticize City Council for what he called its obstructionism.

Spencer said he had a bold vision, and promised to hit the ground running on the first day to implement it.

“Then, something went wrong,” he said.

Spencer did not say what went wrong, but said the early disputes were resolved.

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Sinking Spring Focuses On Revitalizing Downtown

Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United Stat...

Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United States with township and municipal boundaries (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When a group set out to revitalize Sinking Spring’s downtown in 2008, it planned to start with the west side of town.

Then a developer shifted the focus to what’s now known as the Spring Market shopping center in the eastern section.

Now the group is trying to advance a plan for the central district, calling for a new mix of residential and commercial space south of Penn Avenue.

The revitalization group, known as BOSS 2020, for Borough of Sinking Spring 2020, met with an architectural firm and came up with the downtown plan.

Alcon of Sinking Spring contributed $8,000 to the effort.

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Penn Square Consultants Get An Earful

Editor’s note:  Taking care of the root problem needs happen…crime and blight need to be addressed before cosmetics can lure people downtown.  Cleaning up the downtown is necessary but business owners and shoppers need to feel safe above all else.  Without the root problem being addressed, it’s another case of putting lipstick on a pig.

The consultants designing Downtown 20/20 – what Penn Square should look like to attract more out-of-towners – say they’ve gotten an earful of criticism and suggestions at three recent public hearings, and have tweaked the plans to accommodate some comments.

But they also got an earful this week from City Council members, who said that although they liked the ideas, nothing will happen until the city begins resolving Penn Square’s larger issues.

“Nobody wants to go downtown with all the drunks sitting around,” Councilwoman Donna Reed said at a work session with the 20/20 steering committee and the consultants. “It’s just an uncomfortable, disgusting place to walk.”

She said the Downtown Improvement District said its biggest challenge is dealing with public drunkenness, and the city needs to start enforcing its loitering laws and getting rid of the reeking trash containers on North Fourth Street.

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The Three Statistics That Every Downtown Should Live By

Editor’s note:  This is phenomenal advice for all downtown shopping districts and their umbrella organizations i.e. Pottstown Downtown Improvement District Authority.

Lancaster and its James Street Improvement District are prime examples of living by these three simple rules!  I suggest a field trip for any struggling downtown merchants or downtown organizations who want to see what is possible!

I call this the 7-8-7 rule because of the three most important statistics that make a downtown a successful and vibrant destination. Think of your favorite destination downtowns. Are they beautiful? Do they feel safe? Are there things to do after 6:00 pm?

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Lancaster, California – A Community Pottstown Should Emulate

This map shows the incorporated areas in Los A...

Image via Wikipedia

Listed below are the 2009 accomplishments for the City of Lancaster California’s Economic Development/Redevelopment Department.  This is not some wealthy, gated fantasy community.  It is ethnically diverse and economically very middle class.  I listed some demographic info from the city website below the accomplishments (also from the city website).

The accomplishments below are for ONE year – 2009.  The lists for other departments are also impressive.

Will the day ever come when we can expect even a fraction of such results in Pottstown?  I don’t think there has been this much economic development/redevelopment activity here in 10 years, let alone in one year! 

Lancaster, CA had a population of 37,000 people in 1977.  Today, the population is listed at 145,000.  This bedroom community has transformed itself into an economic powerhouse by streamlining the development process (cut red tape) and made local business a TOP priority.  The Lancaster Redevelopment Agency has attracted retail and dining establishments as well as businesses.  The revitalization of downtown Lancaster has been extensive and included façade improvements to existing businesses and the attraction of new business to the downtown.  In 2010, a one mile stretch of Lancaster Boulevard was revitalized which will further economic development in the downtown and beyond.  Lancaster also has an arts community which is helping to drive revitalization.

Lancaster, CA, like Pottstown, is a strong council, weak mayor system of government with a professional manager (like Jason).  I am not advocating that Pottstown try and surpass the population of Allentown.  What I am suggesting is our two communities are not all that different socio-economically.  If this degree of success is possible in Lancaster, CA then revitalization can happen in Pottstown (on a size appropriate scale, of course).  One last thing I will point out is that Lancaster’s city-data crime index for 2009 was 335.2 (Average) compared to Pottstown’s 456.6 (High).  Anything over 450 is considered high. 

Economic Development/Redevelopment Accomplishments for 2009

• Implemented the Lancaster Economic Stimulus Package (ESP), successfully generating an economic impact of over $123 million dollars
• The ESP’s Shop and Drive Program prompted more than $25 million dollars in new auto sales
• Over 5,000 gift cards were issued as part of the ESP’s Shop and Dine Program. More than 400 Lancaster based businesses and over 6,000 citizens participated in the Shop Lancaster program
• Grand Opening of three new restaurants; The Brooklyn Deli, Blvd Express, and Giannini’s in Downtown Lancaster
• Construction started on a $12 million dollar drainage channel enabling the future development of a new Kaiser Permanente facility and the Promenade at Amargosa Creek
• Launched “Destination Lancaster,” a new visitor’s bureau aimed at promoting tourism and supporting businesses within Lancaster and the surrounding Antelope Valley region
• Grand opening of eSolar’s Sierra Sun Tower, a 5MW solar thermal demonstration facility
• Grand opening of the Artist Lofts and Gallery, a 21-unit mixed use project in Downtown Lancaster, representing a $9.4 million dollar investment by Incite Development
• The inaugural “Streets of Lancaster Grand Prix” roared through Downtown Lancaster, garnering more than 20,000 visitors
• Finalized construction plans for $7 million streetscape improvement project in Downtown Lancaster
• Created a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with DayStar Farms, Inc. to cooperatively develop the nation’s first solar park
• The University of Antelope Valley was established in Lancaster and will begin to offer Associates, Bachelors, and Masters degrees at its newest campus, the former Antelope Valley Inn site
• Created new partnership with the Small Business Development Center, Wells Fargo Bank, and the AV Board of Trade to provide free one-on-one counseling and low-cost business workshops
• In conjunction with the County of Los Angeles and the City of Palmdale, hosted the Antelope Valley Enterprise Zone kick-off breakfast
• Launched Mayor’s new home-based business initiative to provide additional education, training and resources for home-based businesses in Lancaster
• Established two Community Neighborhood Impact houses through partnerships with local faith-based organizations
• Implemented ten Neighborhood Revitalization Plans to improve housing and public improvements within the newly designated areas
• Received the 2009 International Economic Development Council (IEDC) Promotional Award in recognition of the “Shop Lancaster” marketing campaign. The city also received a Savvy Award from the City-County Communications & Marketing Association (3CMA) for its “Shop Lancaster” marketing program

 Race (2006-2008):Number and percentage of:Whites: 86,009 / 56.5 %

Blacks/African Americans: 29,263 / 19.2 %

American Indian/Alaska Native: 1,017 / 0.7 %

Asian: 6,568 / 4.3 %

Native Hawaii/Pacific Islander: 306 / 0.2 %

Some other race: 24,109 / 15.8 %

Two or more races: 4,912 / 3.2 %

Hispanic or Latino (of any race): 55,551 / 36.5 %

 Economic Characteristics (2006-2008):Number and percentage of persons:In labor force (over age 16): 61,103 / 57.0 %

Median household income (2008): $49,494

Median family income (2008): $55,569

Per capita income (2008): $19,273

Percentage of:

Families below poverty level: 17.9 %

Individuals below poverty level: 20.4 %

Mean travel time to work: 31.6 minutes

Lansdale Slated For Downtown Makeover

Location of Lansdale in Montgomery County

Image via Wikipedia

Downtown Lansdale is getting “spruced up” soon thanks to a $500,000 federal grant procured by U.S. Representative Allyson Schwartz and an additional $1.8 million dollars in funding from the Transportation Equity Act of 2005.

A ceremonial groundbreaking is scheduled for January 24th at Railroad Plaza, on the corner of Main and Madison Streets.  The construction will take place on several streets in downtown Lansdale.

New sidewalks, streetlights and (dare I say) shade trees are being added to bring curb appeal to the downtown shopping district.  Wonder if Mr. Hylton was consulted about this???  

The contractor, Wexcon Inc., will be establishing a construction headquarters in Lansdale, which is expected to cut costs.  Wexcon is trying to make the project minimally invasive to downtown merchants by doing construction in one block increments and on one side of the street at a time.  Sounds better than ripping up the entire downtown all at once!

A webcam installation is being considered so residents can watch the progress on the borough website.

Another Downtown Pottstown Business Leaves For Greener Pastures!

For 20 years, East Penn AAA has been downtown Pottstown in the renovated freight depot.  Now, they are running off to Limerick Square Shopping Center on December 6th!  PeopleShare and Domino’s already moved out, leaving this beautiful renovated building empty as of December 6th!  PeopleShare moved to Lower Pottsgrove Township (just over the border).  Domino’s remained in Pottstown Borough and relocated to Pottstown Plaza.

Ummmmm….hello borough officials.  Did anyone try to relocate East Penn AAA within our borders?  We have shopping center space a-plenty at Pottstown Center and Pottstown Plaza, along with other areas of the borough!  After 20 years they up and move!

Update:  Councilor Rhoads responded to my question above:

“I previously talked with a lady at AAA about why they were moving and she said it was not due to any situation in Pottstown. She said Douglasville was their area boundary at this end and that they wanted to be more centralized. She said Lansdale is the nearest office that way.”

Many thanks to Councilor Rhoads for speaking with AAA and for taking the time to let us know that a community leader spoke with this business regarding their decision to leave Pottstown!

See Joe Zlomek’s informative article on the Pottstown Post:

An Example Of A Path For Pottstown

Oil City, PA is remaking itself into an Arts Community.  Something that Pottstown says it would like to be.  This community, which is half the size of Pottstown and in an economically challenged part of the state, is putting its money where its mouth is. 

Like Pottstown, Oil City was once an industrial community that has lost much of its industry.  Unlike Pottstown, it is much further away from a major city (90+ miles to Pittsburgh and 60+ miles from Erie).   The median household income in Oil City is $29,060 vs. Pottstown’s $35,785.  The household income for Oil City is $36,149 and Pottstown comes in at $45, 734.  Despite these challenges, Oil City is determined to reinvent itself to bring life back into the downtown and attract business.  Oil City offers relocation incentives to artists, and I really do mean financial incentives, to entice creative people to relocate there, start a business and buy a home.

Recently, our illustrious Zoning Board flatly denied a creative couple a variance to buy a home and operate two businesses out of said home.  A retail store and a by appointment only tattoo business.  Evidently we are too highfalutin to permit a by appointment only tattoo business in this “burg” so we said, “Nope, don’t want your kind in these parts.”  Thereby losing property taxes, the opportunity to fill a vacant home and discouraging artists from coming to Pottstown.  This couple heard Pottstown was the place to be, the bee’s knees etc…. Guess we showed them, didn’t we?  Wonder what they will tell their creative friends about Pottstown now!

What would Oil City do (WWOCD)?  Take a gander at their relocation incentive package and see for yourselves!

I hope somebody on Council or in Borough Hall reads this incentive plan and checks out their website.  It would be time well spent!

Wilkes-Barre Urban Renewal Project Shows What Can Be Accomplished

I think this is a great example of urban renewal, blight eradication, working together, finding available money and utilizing elected officials to facilitate change.

The City of Wilkes-Barre has worked with Senator Bob Casey and Congressman Paul Kanjorski to obtain $950,000 in federal funding that will be put toward the $13.7 million dollar renovation of Coal Street Park into the future home of the Wilkes-Barre Penguins Hockey Team.  This ice skating rink has been an abandoned and blighted property in the city of Wilkes-Barre for the last seven years.  No city general fund revenue has been allocated toward this endeavor but instead the project is being funded by state and federal grants.

Coal Street Park is in a high traffic area and a gateway to downtown Wilkes-Barre.  The property spans 31 acres and will receive an extensive renovation.  Moving the Penguins into the city will bring 20 full-time and 40 part-time jobs, bring more consumers/money into downtown Wilkes-Barre and add to the quality of life for city residents.  Currently the W/B Penguins are located in suburban Plains Township.

There is money out there.  This is why a cohesive and unified vision is needed for Pottstown.