Waynesboro group has high hopes for downtown

April 29, 2004|by DON AINES

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Jim Fisher has been taking a closer look at Waynesboro's downtown and decided that he likes what he sees.

At Wednesday's annual meeting of Mainstreet Waynesboro Inc., Fisher, the group's secretary, reviewed an inventory of the downtown's 132 buildings. Only one, he said, was totally vacant and 22 were partially vacant, while the rest were nearly fully occupied.

Just 2 percent were in what he regarded as poor condition and another 13 percent were in fair condition, with the balance being in good, very good or excellent condition, Fisher told the group of more than 30 merchants, residents and borough officials.


The buildings are in relatively good condition despite 75 percent having been built before 1920, he said.

Fisher and other Mainstreet members hope that profile convinces the community and the state to put money into revitalization of the downtown.

Bill Fontana, executive director of Pennsylvania Downtown Center, said a commitment of $90,000 in local funds can unlock several hundred thousand dollars in state money that could be used to leverage private investment.

"A lot of people think we can do it," Fisher said after the meeting.

"A lot of businesses could put some seed money back. Waynesboro has been very good to some of them," he said.

Fontana spoke with the group Wednesday, outlining the center's role in helping communities qualify as designated Mainstreet communities. The first step, he said, was putting together a profile of the community that includes information about the quantity and quality of properties in the designated Mainstreet area, the number and types of business, the community events and other amenities that could prove attractive to private investment.

Once the survey is submitted to the center, which represents downtown revitalization groups from around the state, the nonprofit corporation then notifies the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development that the organization intends to apply for the official designation.

Once granted by the department, Fontana said Mainstreet groups can receive up to $175,000 over five years to help pay the salary and benefits of a downtown manager. Up to $100,000 more can be accessed for facade improvements and up to $250,000 for restoration or "anchor" buildings considered important to the economic health of a community.

Fontana said the state has earmarked $7 million in grants for such programs in 2004-05.

"With the budget being increased next year, there's really no reason Waynesboro wouldn't be accepted into the program," he said.

First, Mainstreet Waynesboro has to get a commitment of at least $90,000 over the five years that would be used to defray costs associated with a downtown manager, such as office space and utilities.

"We're committed to the hiring of a downtown manager," Mainstreet Waynesboro Chairman Ernie Brockmann said.

The borough council has allocated $10,000 toward the $90,000, said Carol Henicle, the outgoing executive director of the Greater Waynesboro Chamber of Commerce. Fontana said the local match can be a mixture of public and private contributions from local government, businesses and civic organizations.

"Before approaching others for money, we have to show our commitment with the community assessment," Henicle said. Once that is done, raising the cash will begin in earnest, she said.

"Main Street is the face of our community," she said.

Nationally, Fontana said Mainstreet programs attract about $40 in private investment for every $1 put into the programs. In Pennsylvania, communities average about $9.5 million in new investment over the five years while adding seven new businesses and 32 new jobs a year.

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