PDIDA holding meeting tonight for downtown merchants – please attend, if you can!

AGENDA for Merchant Meeting

January 24, 2012

6 pm

Borough Hall

INTRODUCTION – Sheila Dugan PDIDA Chairman

Board Members – Steve Bamford – Council Members – Jason Bobst – Each Merchant – Visitors

Sheila Dugan – Recap 2011

  • Board Reorganization
  • Super Sundays – Small successes – change of day was suggested
  • Hometown Holidays – Small but profitable – Ads – Stores staying OPEN – Flash Mob Shoppers
  • Goals for 2012 – Bigger Events / Not necessarily More Events That will bring people downtown

*Meeting with Jason , Parks N Rec, PACA, Carousel to join in this mission

  • Cleaner Downtown
  • Targeting New Businesses for the Downtown
  • More Marketing of the Downtown as well as Events

*All of this requires help – Please join in the efforts!

Susan Storb – Financials

  • We have reduced administrative costs by more than 50%
  • More Assessment revenues for Events and Marketing
  • Timely Payments are important – there are still a couple of outstanding invoices for the coloring book

Andrew Monastra – Façade Loans and Assessment Payments

Cindy Brower – Events / Committees Formed

Motorcycles – Gospel Riders – April 28th looking for Rain date on 29th – A Sunday

Creating a yearly calendar of events – We need your ideas

Car Shows


John Armato  – Communications

Monthly PDIDA Corner – both in the Mercury and On Line

Ben Moscia – Clean Up – Our Responsability

County Community Service People

Snow Removal

Littering Laws

 Merchant Discussion

What are your issues and concerns?

What are your suggestions going forward?

How would you like to get involved?

Positively Pottstown calendar is back up!

The Positively Pottstown calendar of Christmas concerts, performances, historical events, happy hours, craft and bake sales, and much more is here to help you plan your holiday shopping and entertainment!

Fun for the whole family starts with the Twelfth Night tours, which begin today at Pottsgrove Manor and continue until January 8th during regular museum hours: Tues.-Sat. 10 am to 4 pm; Sun. 1 to 4 pm

Get your gift-buying underway with a shopping march set for downtown Pottstown tomorrow (meet at Bistro 137, 137 E. High Street.) And take advantage of Sunday shopping as Pottstown offers another “Super Sunday” this Sunday, with free, fun activities for the kids at the Farmers’ Market.

Over the next 24 hours, I’ll be putting up several posts to let you know, or remind you, of all that Pottstown’s restaurants, retailers, and arts venues have to offer this holiday season. Stay tuned!

Fall Festival and Pet Fair downtown this Saturday

Pottstown’s First Annual Pet Fair will take place downtown tomorrow, Saturday, September 24 from 9 AM to 2 PM. The Pet Fair will be located in Smith Family Plaza in front of Pottstown Borough Hall.

The Fall Festival will include a massive community yard sale, which is on from 8 am – noon so get up early and head downtown to catch the best deals and find that special something you never knew you needed!

Pottstown’s 4th of July makes Channel 6 News

Thanks to resident Debby Penrod for reporting that Pottstown’s long-standing Fourth of July celebration made the Channel 6 news. See the video here.

The comment near the end about the event being funded through private donations, rather than tax dollars, will surely strike locals as a skimming of the surface of the very real difficulty of funding the event. The many volunteers who make this and many other community events happen are to be commended for all their hard work and dedication throughout the years.  Unfortunately, it’s no longer business-as-usual for the private or public sectors. There’s got to be a new modelof broader and more innovative collaboration in order to keep these community events going — if they are to keep going at all.

Balloon lifts off

As part of the Heritage Action Plan process that took place this spring – the plan is in the final stages of being drafted – it was noted that Pottstown is the host for local and regional events just about every month out of the year.  See list below.

What does this have to do with raising money for the Fourth of July? The marketing of these events is left up to the individual organizations who run them. Pottstown, as the home of these events, does not “claim them” as their own, supplementing and coordinating with the existing marketing. Imagine the events on this list always being promoted together, wrapped up in a simple, cohesive branding message,  on the Borough, PDIDA, PACA and (eventually) PAID websites.

Pottstown would suddenly look like a place where something fun is always happening. Potential visitors would see the pattern and realize that there is fun and safe entertainment to be found in Pottstown on a regular basis. This is a crucial step (among many others) toward marketing Pottstown’s empty storefronts, industrial space and housing to newcomers — and this is where new donors, volunteers and organizational partners can be found to help keep traditional community events like the Fourth of July going. Donors, especially, want to feel like they are supporting not only a worthwhile cause but a “winning” cause.

Pottstown already has a winning line-up. It just needs to flesh out a couple months, come up with the message (speak with one voice!) and market the hell out of it. 

And just because I can’t help myself, here are a few ideas to toss onto the table:

January – continue the winter holiday spirit with Friday Night Lights downtown with literary readings, music and hot cider at multiple venues; bring in outside talent as well as locals, including students from all schools.

February – come up with a Valentine’s Day-themed event or weekend; schedule historical walking tours and coordinate with Pottsgrove Manor & Historical Society programming over Presidents’ weekend.

March – St. Patrick’s Day Pub Crawl (Brickhouse, Frankie & Johnnie’s, Pourhouse, Jack Cassidy’s)

April – Repent from Pub Crawl by focusing on Easter season events and holding historic church tours every weekend; add outdoor activities such as Schuylkill River bike and kayak tours every weekend.

November – Open up the holiday season with Pottstown Pie Festival. Re-claim Mrs. Smith and our pie-making heritage!!

Festivals/Special Events in Pottstown, by month

 January – Polar Bear Plunge

 February – ?

March – ?

 April – Easter/Cross Walk

 May – BMX National Event; Classic Car Show

 June– Schuylkill River Sojourn; Soap Box Derby; Volleyball Rumble; Summer Solstice/Dog Show; Classic Car Show

July – July 4th; Classic Car Show

August – Classic Car Show

 September – Carousel of Flavor; Open Doors; Classic Car Show

October –Schuylkill River Festival; Halloween Parade; Shiver on the River

 November – ?

December – Candlelight House Tour; Hometown Holiday Celebration

Heritage destination location: Pottstown

The Borough of Pottstown recently received a $2,000 Trail Towns and Tours Grant from the Schuylkill River Heritage Area (SRHA). Pottstown resident and biking and greenway advocate, Tom Carroll, and I have been retained by the Borough to implement this grant, and this blog post is meant to kick off that process and give some details about how it will work. Along the way, we’ll keep the community informed via this blog. For a good summary of the purpose of the grants, see Evan Brandt’s article from January 29th here.

The Trail Towns and Tours Grant is to be used to create a 30-page Heritage Action Plan (HAP) by the end of April 2011. It’s a deliberately short time frame in order to get results and for the SRHA to meet the William Penn Foundation’s time limits for spending the funds.

The overall intent of creating the HAP and going through a planning and consensus-building process (however quick) is to identify and leverage existing cultural resources, market Pottstown as a heritage destination, and get Schuylkill River Trail users (and other visitors) into the downtown to spur economic activity. Just as important will be the chance to develop and formalize solid working partnerships among individuals, organizations and businesses committed to promoting downtown Pottstown. This is what we’ve all been talking about for quite a while, and this grant gives the community a chance to try it out – working together and presenting a new image to potential visitors, outside governmental agencies and funders, as well as residents themselves.

It should be noted that heritage tourism IS economic development, but that it should be considered just one prong of a multi-pronged economic development strategy for Pottstown. There is still plenty of room to develop and promote Pottstown as an arts community, or one that values and hosts sustainable technology companies, or whatever other approach comes out of other visioning/planning efforts.

So, what is a heritage or cultural resource? I’ll just give a few examples: the River and its trail; historical architecture, markers & walking tours in the downtown; arts organizations; restaurants, including “heritage eateries,” such as The Very Best and the diner; the Historical Society; The Hill School; Pottsgrove Manor; Riverfront & Memorial Parks; a completed Carousel & mini-golf, etc. Visitors want an authentic experience when they decide on a destination and how to spend their money. Pottstown has loads to offer and the point of this grant is to identify and package it all in a way that will appeal to these visitors.

Another key part of this planning process will be looking at what needs to be done to make it very easy for people biking or hiking on the Trail to know what’s available in town and then actually direct them off the trail and safely to High Street. This whole approach is based on the idea of making the Pottstown Business Loop – a stretch of High Street – an official part of the River Trail, since it’s unlikely a right-of-way along the river will be available from Norfolk Southern anytime soon.

We’ll be helped along in this process by using what’s known as the Heritage Towns and Tours Toolkit, provided by the SRHA and created by their consultants, Peter Johnston & Associates of Easton, MD. From a planning perspective, this Toolkit is just amazing, allowing communities (& consultants, I might add) to dive in where they might otherwise be totally intimidated. The Toolkit lays out a step-by-step process to create a HAP with the rationale, forms and examples that make it seem do-able. Even better is that the SRHA grant comes with $5,000 worth of consulting services from Peter Johnston & Associates. They will be in Pottstown at least once for a 3-4 hour workshop to help us work our way through the Toolkit. We’ll also have support from the SRHA staff, who are right around the corner at 140 College Drive.

Basically, we will go through the following 5 steps:

1. Organize & Plan – What do we want for our community as a heritage destination? Form Useful Partnerships; Create a Vision & Goals, and Define Partner Expectations.

2. Identify & Assess – What do we have to offer as a heritage destination? Identify Heritage Resources; Assess Heritage Resources; and Bring People and Ideas Together.

3. Market & Improve – What do we need to market our community and what has already been done? Create an Image; Market Your Community; Improve Effectiveness.

4. Protect & Manage – How do we get there? Build Public Support, Look at Ordinances & Other Regulations, Make Any Recommendations That Will Help Protect Resources.

5. Prepare & Implement – How to complete the Heritage Action Plan?
Define Projects and Activities, Assign Costs, Manage Resources Over Long-Term

By the end of this process, Pottstown will have:
• A List of Partners and Stakeholders
• A Vision, Goals, and Objectives
• A Summary of Stakeholders and Assigned Jobs, Tasks, and Other Duties for Partners
• An Inventory of Heritage Resources, which have been Evaluated and Assessed for the Heritage Program
• A Marketing Plan Summary including an Image/Brand
• A Listing of Current Government Protections for Heritage Preservation and Tourism
• A Summary of Needed Policy and Regulatory Protections for Heritage Resources
• A Project List, Description of Projects, and Budgets
• A Final List of Recommendations or Strategic Actions including projects; and
• An Organizational Structure for the Long-Term Management and Oversight of the Heritage Program

The HAP will then be used to make another application to the SRHA for $25,000 in implementation funding to carry out the top priorities in the Plan. Those activities must be completed by May 2012.

The next step for Tom and me is to get in touch with folks from an initial list of local “Partners,” inviting them to participate in the process and start filling out a Partnership Form from the Toolkit. Please give me a day or so to get that email out. We invite others who want to participate to get in touch with us at PtownHAP@gmail.com.

Obviously, I think there’s a lot of potential here to get some solid forward movement on the economic development front. I appreciate the Borough giving Tom and me the chance to work on the project and rally the community around common goals – an improved local economy, stronger partnerships and more positive exposure and marketing of all that Pottstown has to offer.

Smith Family Plaza: Community gathering place in downtown Pottstown

The Smith Family Plaza, together with Pottstown’s Borough Hall, was named a Bronze Award Winner in 2006 by the 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania. Since then, this open, pleasant and visually-harmonious town center has become the gathering place for First Saturday celebrations during warm weather months as well as other community events, such as the recent September 11th remembrance service and kick-off to a daylong “Open Doors” event.

First Saturdays in Pottstown are held from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on the first Saturday of the month from May-September. They are organized by the Pottstown Arts and Cultural Alliance and typically include non-stop music, community tables, arts activities, and a used book sale by the Pottstown Regional Public Library.

Across the street and within a 2-block radius of Smith Plaza, you have your choice of restaurants. And speaking of food, the Smith Family Plaza is at the heart of the Carousel of Flavor culinary festival, which just passed the seven-year mark this past weekend. This celebration of food, crafts, art, and live music allows residents and visitors to sample some of the best cuisine available in the region. It is organized by the non-profit Carousel at Pottstown and benefits their carousel revitalization project under construction at 30 W. King Street.

But I like Smith Plaza even after the crowds go home. The lawn is beautifully-manicured and the lush landscaping makes this public space feel cool, safe and inviting, even on the hottest summer day. It’s one of just a few areas in Pottstown with free WiFi, so if you’ve got your laptop and absolutely have to check your email, this is the spot for you. I also have a healthy respect, and a kind of awe, for well-designed government buildings, so a seat in the shadow of Borough Hall suits me just fine.

Location: 100 E. High Street, Pottstown, PA 19464, in front of Pottstown Borough Hall

Size: 1 acre

Suitability: All ages can enjoy this public gathering space for community celebrations, passive recreation and connecting with nature.

Facilities: fountains, small multi-purpose lawn, concrete plaza, benches in sun and shade, people-watching areas, historical marker, seasonal flowers.

Activities + tips: The fountain will be tempting to all, especially young children, but no one’s allowed in! Even though there is no playground equipment, the parents of the stroller-crowd might want to grab a specialty coffee and pastry from across the street at Churchill’s, and then enjoy a moment of peace while the little ones doze.

Pottstown Parks & Recreation Department

Borough Hall, 100 E. High Street, Pottstown, PA 19464


Click on the Department’s “Special Events” tab to learn more about upcoming events.

Follow the parks series at Mission: Healthy Living, Positively!Pottstown, Twitter (PositivelyPtown), Facebook, and The Mercury.

Pottstown’s Riverfront Park: A regional destination

The brightly-colored mural at 140 College Drive in Pottstown is your signal to turn into the parking lot and bring yourself closer to the beauty and tranquility of Riverfront Park. This 60-acre public park offers a wooded oasis with biking and walking trails, sitting areas, a pavilion with picnic tables, an amphitheater for outdoor performances, and a chance to re-connect with the Schuylkill River, long a part of Pottstown’s industrial and recreational heritage.

The building with the mural is occupied by the Schuylkill River Heritage Area, which manages the Schuylkill River Trail, a path that will eventually stretch 130 miles in southeastern Pennsylvania from Philadelphia to Pottsville. To learn more about the trail itself, see their website here.

While the Schuylkill River Trail Council manages the trail itself, various county and local parks and recreation departments maintain the parks through which the trail winds. In Pottstown’s Riverfront Park, the Pottstown Parks and Recreation Department is responsible for maintenance and stewardship. They are also the agency that handles the requests and permits for all the festivals and events that take place in Riverfront Park and all of the Borough’s parks throughout the year.

The Penn State study, recently done for the Pottstown Area Health and Wellness Foundation, classifies Riverfront Park as a moderately well-rounded, large, nature-oriented park. The “well-rounded” part of that description refers to the opportunities it offers for physical activity, contact with nature, social connections, and feeling connected to the history and culture of the place. Before I read this study, I probably would have said that a trip to Riverfront Park allowed me to connect with nature and get a little exercise. But on a couple of recent visits – one on foot, another on a free bike from Bike Pottstown and Tri-County BicyclesI found myself more tuned in to the possibility for social connection and the culture of the river than I ever had before. Here’s what I saw:

Families with young children walking and biking together… a teenaged couple walking hand-in-hand… a woman sitting on a bench, gazing at the water… a lone fisherman drifting past. It was a special treat to see an egret take flight in a low and graceful sweep above the water. I caught another glimpse of him at the water’s marshy edge a short time later. I hope you can see him in the bottom, right corner of this photo!

From my limited anecdotal experience, I would venture to say that the word is getting out about all that Riverfront Park has to offer. On a chilly day last April, before the parking lot was completed near the Heritage Center, I encountered very few people in the park. It was quite a different story in the past few weeks as college students, adults, families with young children, and senior citizens all took advantage of the many spaces and activities that the park provides.

Ideally, everyone would have a park within a half-mile walk (about 10 minutes) of their home. But communities also benefit from regional destination parks, and Riverfront is fast becoming one. The Park hosts the annual Schuylkill River Festival, a community festival that draws thousands of visitors and celebrates the arts, food and music, and also offers demonstrations about available recreational opportunities on the river. This year it will take place on October 9th from 11a.m. to 4 p.m.

Throughout the summer, the Ronald C. Downie Amphitheater is home to the Pottstown Arts and Cultural Alliance’s Sunday in the Park Music Series. It is also  available for other musical events as well; just get in touch with the Pottstown Parks and Recreation Department (see contact information below.)

Riverfront Park is the site of Pottstown Parks and Rec’s Halloween fun, known as Halloween Hijynxx and Shiver on the River. The festivities take place this year on Saturday, October 23rd from 4 – 9 p.m. and include children’s games, scarecrow-making, a magic show, haunted hayride and more, which can’t be beat at just $5 admission per person.

Come New Year’s Day, the river’s edge is the place to be for the annual Polar Bear Swim and Bonfire, also organized by the Pottstown Parks and Recreation Department. Hearty souls must register and sign a waiver before taking a plunge in the river, with rescue crews nearby, of course. Afterward, “polar bears” and onlookers can warm up at a bonfire and scarf down a traditional Slovak meal of pork and sauerkraut, which is thought to bring good luck throughout the year. You can find Mercury reporter Evan Brandt’s account here. I also checked out this video posted on YouTube, and – seriously? – I feel a Polar Bear throwdown in the making. You just might find me in the Schuylkill River (for the first time in my life) on January 1, 2011!

So, how do you get to this amazing park?

Hanover St. entrance

I found three ways to enter Riverfront Park.

If you’re coming from High Street, head south on Hanover Street toward the Hanover Street bridge. If you’re on foot, or if you are able to carry your bike down steps, you can enter via the stairway shown in the photo and immediately start to feel like you’ve left urban life behind.

Come on down!

Or you can turn right onto College Drive to access one of the other two entries, which each have parking.

As noted above, you can turn left into the parking lot at 140 College Drive (the building with the mural). That building is the 1911 PECO generating station that has been, and continues to be, adapted to house the Schuylkill Riverfront Academic and Heritage Center, the result of a partnership between Montgomery County Community College and the Schuylkill River National and State Heritage Area.

Or you can drive, bike or walk into the park near the intersections of Keystone Boulevard and College Drive. Make the turn, cross the tracks near the overpass, and you’ll be in the park.

Riverfront Park is the newest addition to Pottstown’s outstanding parks system and, with its burgeoning programming, has the potential to become a regional destination with year-round activities that appeal to residents and visitors of all age groups and activity levels. I strongly encourage you to check it out, both for its current programs and also as the site for your next hike, special gathering with friends and family, or secret spot for daydreaming on a sunny afternoon.


Location: Along College Drive, between Hanover Street and Keystone Boulevard. Use 140 College Drive, Pottstown, PA 19464 to find it on a map.

Size: 60 acres

Suitability: Active and passive recreation for all ages.

Facilities: Amphitheater, small multi-purpose open space, river, internal trails, picnic areas/tables, picnic pavilion, sitting areas, people-watching areas, natural study areas.

Activities + tips: Shaded, paved path ideal for strollers, walkers, joggers and bikers. Some internal, dirt trails with small jumps that seem to be used by dirt-bikers. These trails are suitable for hiking, although there are no trail maps; if you give these a try, be sure to go with a friend or two.

Hours: Dawn until dusk.

Contact regarding park rentals:

Pottstown Parks & Recreation Department

Borough Hall, 100 E. High Street, Pottstown, PA 19464


Click on the Department’s “Special Events” tab to learn more about upcoming events.

Follow the parks series at Mission: Healthy Living, Positively!Pottstown, Twitter (PositivelyPtown), Facebook, and The Mercury.


Footbridge over Manatawny

Getting ready for a ride

Thank you, Pottstown Kiwanis Club!

Keystone Trailhead


Open Doors 2010: Pottstown Feels the Love

Jazzy tunes from the Middle School
I was kind of holding my breath as the commemorative service got underway in Smith Plaza yesterday morning. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one, scanning the good-sized crowd, trying to gauge how many were there, and whether their numbers would swell or dwindle as the daylong community events, spearheaded by the Pottstown School District and the Pottstown Arts and Cultural Alliance, played out.

After heartfelt speeches, memories of that fateful day in 2001, the honoring of service and rescue personnel, and a moving poem by Ron Downie, I headed up High Street with fellow blogger, Mo Gallant, who writes Pottstown’s Blog. I’d already set up my puzzle- and community-building activity at the Pottstown Regional Public Library and we were going to finish setting up on the sidewalk in front of The Gallery School.

Honor & remembrance

While School Board member Michele Pargeon coaxed passersby to check out the inside of The Gallery, a few determined puzzle-builders got busy with the first pass at puzzles of The Gallery, the Middle School, Borough Hall, Churchill’s and Smith Plaza. Bill Krause emerged from The Very Best next door and shot the breeze with us for a couple minutes. Council President Steve Toroney and his wife came by, so did Dave Kraybill, Executive Director of the Health and Wellness Foundation after picking up a free bike at Tri-County Bicycles through the Bike Pottstown program. Periodically, Mo and I would look up and down High Street and say, “They’re here. People are really here.”

That feeling of wonder only grew in strength as the day unfolded.

After putting some stuff in my car, which was parked for free all day in front of the Tri-County Performing Arts Center, Mo and I popped in for a quick hello to Executive Director Marta Kiesling. Then, at an outdoor table at Juan Carlos Fine Mexican Cuisine, we indulged in the sublime Mexican egg rolls with honey jalapeno dip and their spicy Mexican Caesar salad.

Penn Street skateboarders
Skateboarders from Bentley’s Boards Skate Shop kept us entertained on Penn Street. Mayor Bonnie Heath, her husband Mason Craig, Borough Manager Jason Bobst and Main Street Manager Leighton Wildrick were at a nearby table, and that outdoor spot was perfect for people-watching, saying “hi” and meeting new folks. As lunch was winding down, I realized that I was in the midst of a perfectly balanced, lively urban/small hometown experience. Great food, people of all ages on the street, full trolleys passing by, and outdoor dining in a place where “everybody knows your name.”

As it got closer to three o’clock, Mo and I bid farewell (Thanks, Mo! Thanks, Michele, for looking out for the puzzles!) Then I headed to the Library to make a quick stop and see how things had gone over there. On my way up High Street, I slowed down to take in the crowd and the thumping salsa beat in front of SwingKat and Grumpy’s Handcarved Sandwiches. Music! Joy! Dancing in the streets! This was Pottstown on September 11, 2010. Mark it on your calendar. Imprint it on your souls.

The puzzle report from Mike Packard at the Pottstown Regional Public Library was thumbs-up. If you haven’t been to the library recently, it’s got a whole new look inside, with the fiction downstairs and popular and current fiction on display. Check out the way-cool teen room downstairs. And there was popcorn! In the library! The smell was heavenly. If they keep this up, they’re going to give the big bookstores a run for their money.

Library puzzlers

I made my way to the high school where school district volunteers and staff had lined the cafeteria and halls with tables for any community and school group that wanted to participate. I set up my puzzles and free book raffle in the cafeteria and never got a chance to see the hallways filled with people, including elected officials from both Borough Council and the School Board. In addition to all the families and young puzzle fanatics who stopped by, there was Erica Weekley of the Borough’s economic development staff, and Tim Phelps of Tri-County Area Chamber of Commerce and his family.

John Armato, Director of Community Relations for the Pottstown School District and Superintendent Dr. Reed Lindley both stopped by to chat and thank me for being there. It wasn’t just me – they were talking to everyone. It’s obvious that these leaders are real people-persons and that they are “for real.”

In closing, I’d like to hearken back to my blog post of August 8 – The work of the community. From a community revitalization perspective, yesterday was a HUGE bump up to the next level. The community sees the positive and good things it’s capable of. You never know when that’s going to happen – that breakthrough – but once it has, in a lot of ways there’s no turning back.

While yesterday provided the community with a long moment of harmony, where the results of true teamwork were visible and palpable, every day isn’t going to be like this. But the more of these moments that you can string together, the better prepared you will be to get over the rough spots in between, together, with ultimate faith and trust in each other. Congratulations, Pottstown – you’re awesome!

Open Doors = Open Eyes + Open Minds + Open Hearts

This Saturday, September 11th, Pottstown will commemorate the tragic events of that day, nine years ago.

After opening ceremonies and remembrances at Smith Family Plaza at 11 am, the School District, businesses, arts and community groups, The Hill School, Genesis Housing, Pottsgrove Manor and more are publicly opening their doors for the rest of the day to encourage people to spend time together, get further acquainted with their downtown, and to strengthen community bonds. The School District initiated the event, which has come to be known as “Open Doors.” It’s got a contagious, positive vibe that’s almost magical, judging from today’s Mercury.

Churchill Cafe puzzle
The Mercury is running articles all week. For news stories and a schedule, check out the District’s website here, and the Pottstown Arts & Cultural Alliance blog here.

In general, downtown locations will have special events going on from 11-3.

From 3-6 pm, the High School will hold an open house – with a gazillion activities! – followed by a home football game at 7 pm vs. Upper Moreland.

Building community, one piece at a time…
From 11-2:30, Positively!Pottstown is offering puzzle-building at tables at The Gallery on High and the Pottstown Regional Public Library. Puzzles of various Pottstown buildings will be available for anyone to piece together at these locations. They can then be broken up and started all over again. Fun for adults and kids!

At 3 pm, the puzzle-building will continue over at the High School. There, students can also put their name into a free drawing for a book; there will be books for all grade levels. Buildings… books… what else do you expect from a planner and writer? 🙂

Building community... one piece at a time

Big shout-outs!
Much thanks to Mr. Armato at the High School, Mike Packard at the Library, and Erika Hornburg-Cooper of The Gallery School for providing space for the puzzles.

The regulatory framework– Part 2: Walking a half-mile in a property owner’s shoes

I am so sorry for writing really long posts! Please try to get through this one. I feel it’s getting to the heart of the question: Why is High Street empty?

In previous posts, we’ve done an overview of the various documents, ordinances, and maps that dictate land use in Pottstown. We have a sense of the outside agencies and funding sources that are available to help make development happen. We know that the private sector prefers to know exactly what it’s getting into. In this post, we’re walking a half-mile in a property owner’s shoes… into the Borough’s website.

Over the past nine months that I’ve gotten re-acquainted with my hometown, I’ve been to the Borough’s website hundreds of times (no exaggeration) to look at maps, regulations, etc. It’s taken me quite a while to even begin to figure out how the heck things work, and I admit I’m still unsure about a lot of things. It’s kind of a bummer to admit that I can’t get through the maze more easily. And it is a maze.

Being a writer/communicator, I’m really big on websites that serve their purpose. The Borough’s website is not only for current residents, it’s also the point of entry for outsiders who are considering becoming insiders, i.e., potential homeowners and the business community. The website, in and of itself, should be a user-friendly, logical “document.” The fact that it isn’t gives the first hint that the functioning of the government and the approval processes might not be user-friendly or logical either. If your land development systems can’t be communicated clearly for the average citizen, then there’s probably something wrong with your systems.

Let’s go to the Borough’s website now.

1. First thing, I want to know what this town is all about. I click “About Pottstown” and go to “History.” The town’s “story” stops in 1964. That’s a little scary right there, and stops me in my tracks. I want to know about Pottstown today, but I can’t really find it anywhere on the site. Also, it looks like there’s only one photo on the whole site. (Picture = 1,000 words.)

I here confess that I wrote a bunch of the web copy for the PACA website. On the home page, they come right out with their mission, give three sentences about history and then move into the vision of the arts community for the present & future of Pottstown. I like to think these words create an image, draw people in, and make them feel the potential old-school coolness of this place. The Borough can have more about its history on its website, but at some point it needs to bring visitors to the present day.

So now you’re thinking, “What does this have to do with land development?”

Everything the Borough does and how it presents itself to the larger world is part of its redevelopment efforts. Successful land development is all about telling the story, selling a dream, a vision. It’s about the Borough selling itself.

2. Again, we’re developers or potential home owners now. The Borough’s website is chock-full of information about its ordinances, maps, etc. There’s a lot there. But it’s not enough to say the information is all there. It has to be presented in chunks that help a user make sense of the land development process itself.

On the main navigation bar on the left of the home page, I click on “Departments,” to see if they have a planning or community development department. I’m drawn to “Inspections and Permits.” There’s a huge amount of useful information – what you need a permit for, which zoning & planning applications are relevant to specific kinds of projects, residential property transfer and rental registration/inspection requirements.

If you go in this order through the website, this is where you first run into mention of the Homeowners’ Initiative Program. I guess it’s under “Inspections & Permits” because it will involve an inspection and a permit. (Okay, but that seems kind of random.) “It” turns out to actually be two programs (homeowner loan and rental conversion loan). They are also mentioned on the Economic Development page.

Before we go there, though, click on the link to the “Redevelopment District Map” at the bottom of the “Inspections & Permits” page. If I’m a redeveloper or a business owner, my ears perk up: What is the “Redevelopment District”? What are the rules and incentives there? But, no, it’s just a link to a map, and I can’t find anything more about it. On the entire website.

(Out of the blue, in an email, someone recently mentioned a “Core District Redevelopment Plan” from 2003. Is this where the Redevelopment District Map came from? Why have I never seen this plan before? Is it still relevant to Borough land use policy and programs? I need to call someone at Borough Hall to get to the bottom of this.)

3.a. So, let’s jump over to the Economic Development “Information & Links” page. Scroll down under “Homeownership Initiative Program.” Click on “Click here for the Step-by-step application process and to view the Boundary Map” You end up here. Click on Homeownership Initiative Program – Boundary Map. You end up here. This Homeownership Initiative Program Boundary Map is not the same as the Redevelopment District Map.

So why is there a link to the Redevelopment District Map under the Homeownership Initiative information on the Inspection & Permits page?

Are you confused just reading that last sentence? Welcome to my world.

What I’m saying is that I really need the dots to be connected for me.

3.b. Go back to the Economic Development “Information & Links” page. At the very top – no heading, nothing to draw your eye to it – there’s a link to information for businesses in the Pottstown Downtown Improvement District. Up pops what is essentially a whole other website with its own logo. The text says it’s still part of the Borough… a Main Street Program… a special assessment district. I can’t find a map… would my property be in this district?? There’s the Pottstown Downtown Foundation to support their activities. They have funding for their own façade programs… or do they?

I start to wonder if this program is still operating… Under the “Business Opportunities” link, I’ve been reading the same message for nine months. This may be the only place you can find the name of Pottstown’s Main Street Manager… well, the former Main Street Manager. (The current Main Street Manager is Leighton Wildrick. Leighton & I had a great chat last week. I’m sure other people want to talk to him too!)

Eventually, I find the PDIDA map on the Borough Maps page, which is under “About Pottstown,” but not on the PDIDA pages… Did I miss it there?

… From what I can tell by toggling back and forth between the two maps, the PDIDA district is not the Core Redevelopment District… still curious about that…

3.c. Go back to the Economic Development “Information & Links” page. Okay, so there’s an economic development plan. That will tell me what I need to know. Oh… wait… the link goes right to the document. It’s 145 pages. I have to read a 145-page report just to find out what their economic development strategy is? Forget it! I just want to know what programs they have to help me NOW!

3.d. Go back to the Economic Development “Information & Links” page. Click on “View the Maps.” Up pops a map from the Economic Development Strategic Plan. The first map is: “Development Areas and Opportunity Sites.” What do those red and blue boundaries mean? Is there special funding programs for those areas? They don’t seem to match up with the other maps I’ve seen. Geez, I guess I have to dig into that report.

Let’s review:
– Redevelopment District Map
– Homeowner Initiative Program Boundary Map
– Development Areas and Opportunity Sites (from Economic Development Strategic Plan)

And add a couple more:
– Keystone Opportunity Zone (does a map exist?)
Historic District
(We’ll talk about the Historic District and HARB in the next post.)

Why aren’t businesses coming to High Street?

I’m just trying to get a sense of what this town has to offer me and/or my business. I’m just trying to get my bearings. I didn’t even get to any of the actual development or building approval processes yet.

Look, who has time to do all this? Save staff time, residents’ time, business’ time by straightening out the message and getting it up on the website. The website is the entry point to your community and to your land development approval system. It has to be friendly, simple and clear to attract new people and businesses, not tearing their hair out and running in the opposite direction.

What is needed on the Borough website:
– A vision statement that inspires and tells potential homeowners and businesses what you’re all about and where you’re headed.
– Simple summaries of land use incentive programs and regulations, possibly sorted by specific user groups: current residents, potential home owners, potential business owners/landlords, potential developers.
– Examination of maps to see if they are all absolutely relevant. If they are, then there has to be some simple way to explain or graphically depict the overlaps. People purchasing real estate need to know what incentives they are eligible for and what regulations or special assessments apply to their property.
– Clear, logical visuals of the incentive programs, along with their funding sources, to show how they are related to each other.

For now, you could keep the same website design and just start consolidating and simplifying. (Simple is always better.) This could use the attention of a small, working committee of knowledgeable, local minds to sort this out. 🙂 I’d be glad to work on the writing and organization with them. This doesn’t have to take long. In the end, visitors to the Borough website should have a clear sense of what they have to do to become a home owner, business owner or developer in Pottstown and feel welcomed and inspired to check it out further.

Next up: The regulatory framework– Part 3: Walking another half-mile in a property owner’s shoes

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