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Residents set sights on fixing Waynesboro's downtown

February 22, 2005|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Jody Walker grew up and still lives in Waynesboro. He went off to college and today works in Germantown, Md. He said he has seen many vital downtowns and wonders why his own hometown isn't thriving.

Walker, 26, is part of a local effort to save downtown Waynesboro, a tired, five-block area sporting many vacant stores. It is a downtown that 40 and 50 years ago was a hub of economic activity.

He was among about 60 local residents and government representatives Monday night attending the third "visioning" meeting sponsored by MainStreet Waynesboro Inc. in the local Elks Club on Main Street.

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The sessions are organized by the Pennsylvania Downtown Center, a nonprofit group from Harrisburg, Pa., that helps Pennsylvania's small towns organize downtown revitalization efforts.

"In college and at work I have seen towns that are thriving and I wonder why that can't happen in my own hometown," Walker said. "That's my reason for coming to these meetings - to help turn things around in Waynesboro."

"We've tried and failed several times in the past, but this time there is strong community support," said Ernie Brockmann, a retired downtown businessman.

"People are beginning to recognize that it won't get better by itself," he said. "I'm impressed with the cross section of people involved this time. We have a high school student here tonight. There are two attorneys, an architect, a retired pastor, business people and representatives of Waynesboro's Borough Council and Washington Township. Nobody has to be here."

"It's do or die," said Kay Hoffman, president of MainStreet Waynesboro Inc. "It's exciting to see the momentum and all the people who are involved. This has been talked about for years and it's finally going to happen."

Ed LeClear, special projects coordinator for the Pennsylvania Downtown Center, runs the visioning sessions - meetings where locals, in a grass-roots setting, are coming up with ideas on what Waynesboro should become.

"This is a long-term process," LeClear said. "They will have to stay involved for the next several years."

To be successful, the effort will have to make progress slowly and incrementally, short-term and long-term, he said.

"They will need early successes and to keep their eye on the ball five years down the road," he said.

LeClear said Waynesboro has adequate assets to begin the process. "It's relatively close to Interstate 81, it hasn't destroyed its historic architecture. It still has a lot of its historic fabric left."

Another plus, he said, is the community's proximity to the Appalachian Trail.

"Every community has something to work with and Waynesboro is better off than most," he said. "I'm impressed with the turnout, their enthusiasm and their interest."

The focus should be on the community's quality of life, he said.

LeClear broke those attending into four groups, each with their own area of concern, including organization, design, promotions and the economic restructuring of the downtown.

The groups came up with their own ideas and listed them at the end of the meeting.

The findings will be drafted into a report to be presented at the final visioning meeting March 21.

William Fontana, executive director of the Pennsylvania Downtown Center, will run the March meeting.

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