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Main Street vision starts to take shape

May 19, 2005|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - In 1996, a group of interested Waynesboro residents, facing a dying downtown, formed Main Street Waynesboro Inc., a nonprofit effort to revitalize the commercial and residential district.

Nine years later, it looks like things finally are under way.

In 1997, the Main Street organization sent letters to downtown business and property owners for money to begin the revitalization process.

Charles "Chip" McCammon, president of the Waynesboro Borough Council, said he was the liaison between the Main Street group and the council at the time.

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"They had plans to do things, but they didn't have any money," McCammon said. "They wanted to redo the Rotary parking lot by planting trees and putting in curbs and things like that. They also wanted to tear down the building where the (New Hope) homeless shelter is, but it all cost money and they didn't have any."

McCammon said the Main Street members continued to hold regular meetings through the years, but not much progress was made toward turning around downtown.

It wasn't until a newly organized grass-roots effort last year hooked up with the Pennsylvania Downtown Center that things began to change.

The center, based in Harrisburg, Pa., is a nonprofit organization that helps small towns across the state with revitalization efforts.

It has ties with the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, which provides grant money to communities trying to bring back their downtowns, said James Fisher, a member of Main Street Waynesboro Inc.'s board of directors.

A representative from the Pennsylvania Downtown Center met with local residents in a series of four "visioning" sessions in January, February and March. The goal was to identify the downtown's strengths and weaknesses, come up with a vision of what the community wants its downtown to look like and find ways to accomplish that.

The state promised a $175,000 grant over five years to hire a full-time downtown manager to start the revitalization process. The borough has to put up $90,000 as its share.

More than 125 residents and downtown business and property owners showed up for the first vision session. Interest in the effort remained high through three subsequent meetings, with attendance never falling below 75 volunteers.

The volunteers formed four committees with a goal of having the downtown manager hired and on the job by the end of the year.

The committees include organization and fundraising chaired by Ernest Brockmann. He said this week that his committee has raised more than $77,000 in donations and pledges toward the borough's $90,000 share.

Brockmann wants to raise $150,000 to build a financial cushion to ensure that the Main Street program succeeds.

"People care about this community and they want to see the main street rejuvenated," he said.

"The more money we have, the more we can do," Fisher said.

The promotions committee, headed by Michael Cermak, will focus on improving the image of downtown.

Clint Rock, a local architect, is chairman of the design committee. It is responsible for improving the appearance of the streetscape, buildings, traffic flow and parking.

The fourth committee, economic restructuring, is chaired by MaryBeth Hockenberry, executive director of the Greater Waynesboro Chamber of Commerce. Its goal is to help existing businesses expand, recruit and improve the variety of businesses that occupy the downtown commercial district.

The committees have been meeting regularly since March.

"Some are meeting more than once a month," Fisher said.

Some progress already has been made, he said.

The design committee members walked downtown to see what is needed to improve building facades, signs and parking, Fisher said.

Main Street Inc.'s biggest accomplishment to date was getting the Borough Council to pass an anti-loitering ordinance.

Now, it's pushing for a noise ordinance to silence loud vehicles, and an anti-littering ordinance also is on their minds, Fisher said.

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