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Punt to seek out more money for downtown

March 24, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - State Sen. Terry Punt asked downtown Waynesboro businesspeople Thursday morning to join him in a commitment to the community's future just months after announcing he secured $500,000 for businesses.

"I'm working on some additional funding in the upcoming budget," said Punt, R-Franklin.

Those moneys would be committed to expanding his pet business incentive project outside its current geographic bounds, he said.

The incentive program he announced in December 2005 is designed to provide free or reduced rent for new businesses and to offset the cost of expanding existing ones on Main Street between Clayton Avenue and Grant Street. Now, in what he referred to as "phase two," Punt wants to make the same offer to businesses on Main Street beyond those limits.

"I believe strongly that downtown Waynesboro has a future," Punt said.

The guidelines for Punt's program are being finalized, but he told the crowd at Thursday's focus group that participating businesses would absolutely have to remain open until 8 p.m. Fridays. That stipulation is a throwback to his childhood when Main Street and its businesses were a social hub.

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"It may sound a little folksy, but it's going to be nice," Punt said.

Punt strongly urged the businesspeople who participated in the focus group to keep their business open on Friday nights for the good of Waynesboro's future.

"If we don't, we might as well pack up our bags, and I'll take the half-million somewhere else," he said.

Punt said he hopes to have the initial phase of the program in place by July 1.

"This is a model program for the state. It's never been done before," Greater Waynesboro Chamber of Commerce Executive Director MaryBeth Hockenberry said.

Hockenberry, together with the nonprofit organization Main Street Waynesboro Inc., facilitated the Thursday morning focus group and invited representatives of the 143 businesses in the town center zone, which extends from Second Street to North Street. It includes most of the area between Clayton Avenue and Fairview Avenue.

Hockenberry said the chamber of commerce has put together a 15-member task force to review proposed changes to the borough's sign ordinance. Those changes include prohibiting electronic, flashing and scrolling signs.

She reminded the focus group that those changes will have a significant impact on their downtown presence and encouraged the business owners to "raise your voice and let us know" opinions as the task force's report is prepared over the next three or four months.

Hockenberry also told the businesspeople - including those representing restaurants, financial institutions and antiques and gift shops - about coming changes to holiday festivities in Waynesboro, specifically commenting on the Chamber of Commerce's move to placing four Christmas trees in the town.

Last year, a piece of the Christmas tree snapped off and required a day's worth of repairs. It spent the rest of the season misshaped with several strands of lights burned out.

"The broken tree is ending the tradition," Hockenberry said, pointing to the upcoming reconfiguration of center square as a second reason to cease using a single tree.

Hockenberry found pictures from 1932 in which there were four Christmas trees in place, and she described it as beautiful.

"If they can make that work in the Depression, we can certainly make it work now," she said.

Hockenberry echoed Punt's sentiment that businesses have to be open, and she said it's especially important during special events. She's looking to day when people visit one business, then the neighbor and a third a block away.

"Most people say to me, 'There's nothing downtown.' There is a lot going on downtown," Hockenberry said, emphasizing that there are 143 businesses.

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