Draft Heritage Action Plan to be discussed by Council tomorrow night

 On Wednesday, August 3rd, Borough Council will be discussing the Draft Heritage Action Plan (HAP) at the Committee of the Whole Meeting at 7 pm at Borough Hall.

Tom Carroll and I will give a brief presentation – 10 minutes – about the Draft (HAP). The Borough undertook the creation of a HAP this past spring with a grant from the Schuylkill River Greenway Association & the William Penn Foundation. The process sought input from a wide range of history, arts, culture, business and educational partners and citizens. We also got advice from Peter Johnston & Associates, planning consultants out of Easton, Maryland, who created a Schuylkill River Heritage Towns & Tours Toolkit for grant recipients to use.

The ideas behind Pottstown creating a Heritage Action Plan are to:

(1)  identify existing heritage & Schuylkill River Trail-related resources, such as historic walking tours, Pottsgrove Manor, the bike shop, arts organizations and restaurants;

(2)  let Trail users, residents and other visitors know what resources there are and where they’re located through good signs and trail markers;

(3)  get Schuylkill River Trail users from Riverfront Park and into the downtown, where the Trail can be extended down High Street through the use of the existing bike lanes, and further extend the Trail to a new terminus at Pollock Park;

(4)  help generate more foot/bike traffic for downtown merchants; 

(5)  get the Borough, business owners, and arts, historical, recreational, educational and wellness organizations working together around marketing Pottstown as a heritage destination.

One of the key words above is “Action.” There’s $25,000 available now from the Greenway/William Penn Foundation to implement some of the prioritized projects in Pottstown’s Draft HAP. Click on COMPONENT RANKING RESULTS to see the complete list of projects. These are some tangible activities that could help get people into town and give the downtown & PDIDA a leg up in marketing Pottstown as a Heritage Town.

Four projects were identified as appropriate for the next round of implementation funding from the Greenway (the $25K mentioned above.) They are:

#6 – Trail Connection: Riverfront Park to High Street & High Street to Pollock Park
#18 – Pottstown Comprehensive Brochure (to go into kiosks, Chamber of Commerce, businesses)
#28 – 3 Informational Kiosks at Riverfront Park, Pollock Park, Downtown
#36 – Trail Friendly Decal for participating businesses who offer water, rest rooms or discounts to Trail users

 These projects were chosen from the list of 42 projects based on:
• making a visible impact;
• being able to be completed within the scope of the available funds ($25K);
• being able to be completed by May 2012;
• and being compatible with the Heritage Towns & Tours major initiatives:
– destination creation and marketing;
– creating a Trail Town identity and a sense of place;
– and improving or creating on-ground connections between trails and communities.

The HAP can be used as a supporting document to go after more grant money to implement other projects listed in the plan. In a time of dwindling resources, there is still money in PA for conservation, trail connections and the like.

Residents and downtown business and property owners are encouraged to come out tomorrow night to hear more about the HAP and see what’s proposed for implementation.

MCCC Begins Phase II on Riverfront Center

I recently received the following press release from Montgomery County Community College and added the photo so readers would know what building is being renovated.

140 College Drive


June 15, 2011, Pottstown, Pa.—As residents of Pottstown and its surrounding communities head to theSchuylkill River and its trails for recreation this summer, they will see a flurry of activity at 140 College Drive – the future home of the Riverfront Academic and Heritage Center.

Montgomery County Community College is currently in phase II of the renovation that will transform the facility, commonly referred to as “the old PECO building,” into a state-of-the-art educational center. Phase II work includes improvements to the building’s infrastructure and exterior envelope, including the installation of sustainable features that will support LEED certification.

Specifically, phase II will include replacement of the building’s aged, leaking roof with an eco-friendly green roof, along with the installation of energy efficient windows. A new entrance and handicap-accessible ramp will also be created. Phase II work is slated for completion in September.

When funding becomes available, phase III work will focus on the building’s interior, including the development of classrooms, offices and student spaces. A variety of sponsorship and funding opportunities are available to help bring the proposed Riverfront Academic and Heritage Center to fruition. To learn more, visit www.mc3.edu/giving or call the College’s Foundation at 215-641-6535.

The completed Center will provide space for four college classrooms equipped with SMART technology, a state-of-the-art laboratory that will support the College’s Environmental Science degree program, and an interpretive center that will provide educational, historic and tourist information about the Schuylkill River Heritage Area (SRHA).

In May 2010, the College completed phase I of the project by renovating the site’s parking lot. Renovations included removing contaminated soil, installing underground drainage facilities, adding clean fill, installing a blacktop cap to protect the groundwater table, and constructing three bio-retention basins to capture stormwater runoff. Installation of LED lighting and the placement of more than 130 trees, shrubs and bushes make the lot more sustainable.

The building at 140 College Drive served the Pottstown community as an electrical generating station starting in 1911.  After sitting vacant for a number of years, the building and three-acre site were purchased by the Borough of Pottstown. The College secured ownership of the site in April 2009, and enjoys a unique partnership with the SRHA, which leases office space in the building.

Pottstown’s weekend at a glance

Peter Pan, A Musical Adventure is in its final days at the Tri-County Peforming Arts Center! It runs through this Sunday, June 19. TriPAc is located at 245 E. High Street, Pottstown, PA 19464. This is the U.S. premier of a new version of Peter Pan, and, yes, it’s happening right here in Pottstown. Go to TrIPAC.org to order our tickets online now. You won’t want to miss it!

Get out of the gate early on Saturday, June 18 and check out the Pottstown Soap Box Derby race, sponsored by the Ambucs. It will take place on the Wilson Street hill off Farmington Avenue. Area kids will compete for the chance to run in the All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio.

A Summer Solstice Celebration is happening at Smith Plaza tomorrow, June 18. It includes The Gallery School’s community yard sale and lots of live music. WPAZ will be broadcasting live from 10-noon. The Celebration also includes the 2nd Annual PottsMUTTster Dog Show from 9:00am to 2:00pm at Smith Family Plaza, right in front of Borough Hall in Pottstown, PA. Bring your pooch and compete for such honors as Best Singing Mutt and Best Mystery Mutt. REGISTRATION is from 9:00 am to 11:00 am. EVENTS take place from 11:00am to 2:00 pm. It all benefits the Montgomery County SPCA.

Also taking place tomorrow at Pottstown’s Riverfront Park is the 2nd Annual 5K/1M Race to Shelter the Homeless sponsored by Wings of Victory Outreach Corp. Riverfront Park is located at 140 College Drive.

Registration starts at 7:30am – Race starts at 8:30am. There’s a $30 registration fee – Moms & Dads with strollers are welcome!

Contact email: wings.victory@yahoo.com or visit their website at www.wingsofvictoryoutreach.org

Wings of Victory Outreach Corp. was formed to provide housing and life skills training for homeless or near homeless individuals. They offer a holistic approach and give a hand up by offering programs that develop self sufficiency through housing, employment, education, and character building. Participants gain the skills needed to function responsibly and effectively in daily life.  

And when you’re ready to unwind on Saturday night, head on over to Sunnybrook Ballroom for their weekly “Hot Summer Nights” at The Tiki Hut. There are drink specials, music and dancing for the 21 and over crowd. Sunnybrook is located at50 N. Sunnybrook Rd,Pottstown. Check out all their upcoming music and entertainment at http://www.sunnybrookballroom.net.

Schuylkill River Sojourn: A Day on the “Hidden River”

Tuesday night, June 14… This time last week I was collapsing in a recliner in my parents’ living room, recovering from a 13.7 mile paddle down the Schuylkill River from Gibralter to Pottstown’s Riverfront Park. And I was happy as a clam. (What makes clams so happy, anyway?)

I’d gotten up at the ungodly hour of 4:30am and was on the road by 5am from New Jersey to the launch in Birdsboro. I’d only ever done some recreational paddling a few times when visiting friends in Canada the past few summers, and just figured I’d tough it out for one day. How bad could it be?

After fortifying myself with a few pancakes provided by the Cumru Township Lions Club, catching up with Tom Carroll, my consulting partner on Pottstown’s Heritage Action Plan, and his brother Mike, and meeting Carol DeWolf, Director of the Schuylkill Highlands Conservation Landscape Intitiative, and Dennis DeMara from PA’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, it was time to get into a kayak and literally test the waters.

I immediately drifted out into a part of the river where the current was pulling me downstream. I saw all the other paddlers patiently waiting for everyone to get into their boats, while I spun in circles and paddled furiously to keep from getting too far from the group. After 10 minutes, I was ready to call it quits for the day.

But, as would happen throughout the morning, until I got a little more instinctive with my paddle and kayak, someone knowledgeable would float over to me and offer me pointers and they had an immediate impact. By mid-morning, I was moving steadily down river with Mike from Spring City, and later joined by his brother-in-law, Mark. They were doing the entire Sojourn; it was their first time. Turns out Mike just started paddling last fall, and he’s hooked. He talked about living near the river all his life and really just discovering it recently. He’s gone so far as to buy his own camping gear, kayak and paddle – I rented mine from HRO Outfitters – and he’s been known to put in at the Spring City boat launch on the spur of the moment for a cruise on the river.

It was like this all day long – meeting friendly people, many of whom were also first-timers like me. The “experts” who floated past always had a new piece of advice for ne, and I appreciated all of it. There are plenty of paddling and certified safety professionals on the Sojourn, so you’re always in very safe company. Next year I definitely want to add at least a few days. The Schuylkill River Sojourn runs for 7 days and 6 nights; participants can do one day or the whole week. They can camp by the river or find other accommodations. The food is outstanding. We had an amazing candlelit lunch of fried chicken, pasta salad, freshly cut apples and Rita’s water ice at Morlatton Village, along with a short talk about planting native species in your Pennsylvania garden. And dinner by Bause-Landry Catering in Riverfront Park was out of this world: cornbread, fresh salads, Portabella mushroom chili (as well as the meat variety), and a massive chocolate chip cookie. I think I also wolfed down a few other things that are escaping me now…

My first time in the Schuylkill River, ever, was this past January 1st for Pottstown’s Parks & Rec Polar Bear Plunge. Now that I’ve had this kayak experience – where my whole perspective on what the river has meant to this region, since way, way back has been totally awakened – I’m looking forward to getting out there more often. It is peaceful and other-worldly and right in your own backyard. But boy was I glad to come around the bend, arms acquiver,see the Hanover Street Bridge and know that I was home.

Tom Carroll and I meet up in Riverfront Park

For $1/minute, I had a brief massage under the pavilion by Angela Wagner of the Academy of Massage Therapy and Bodyworks, located at 141 High Street in Pottstown. That definitely set the right tone for my recovery over the next couple of days.

If you want to experience the Schuylkill River Trail and River in a “peddle and paddle” event, check out the program that’s taking place on June 25th, sponsored by the Schuylkill River Heritage Area. It’s filling up fast, so sign up today!

Tri-County for A Cure Video Project

The weekend is finally almost here for Yoga on the Steps, which benefits the amazing organization: Living Beyond Breast Cancer.  In case you weren’t able to attend our last Positively!Pottstown Happy Hour and you haven’t seen this video circulating around the internet (especially on facebook), here’s the culmination of some fun ideas, a lot of great participation by local business owners and leaders, and the talent of a certain photographer, Melia Rios-Lazo of Priceless Moments

Owner of High Street Yoga and the creative force behind the video, Barbara Kosciewicz offered her thoughts today about the video.  She writes of the project:

Throughout the long winter, during each class someone would comment or giggle about a certain pose we could do in a location in Pottstown.  We dreamed for spring to come and decided it would be our spring project.   Before long, the idea began to grow and evolve into raising awareness and funds for our Yoga team Tri-County for a Cure that is attending Yoga on the Steps on Sunday May 15th. Suddenly the project became much  greater than ourselves and became something both fun and meaningful

You can read the rest of her thoughts on her blog, Yoga Wisdom for Everyday, which is also a Mercury Town Square Blog. 

There is still time to get involved with Yoga on the Steps:  you can donate to the Tri-County for a Cure team or even sign up to participate on Sunday.  Just visit www.yogaonthesteps.org to get the details.

Keller Williams Realty Group in Limerick Ready for 3rd Annual “RED Day”

Associates from Keller Williams Realty Group in Limerick will “Give Where They Live” as part of RED Day, one of the biggest events in the real estate industry. Short for “Renew, Energize and Donate,” RED Day was created to unite Keller Williams Realty offices and associates in an international day of service. The kick-off for the local Keller Williams efforts will be held this Thursday, May 12, 2011.

  Keller Williams Realty Group in Limerick will be supporting Operation Backpack – an organization that provides local hungry students with much needed food for the weekend. In Pottstown alone there are more than 10% of families living below the poverty level and more than 60% of students qualified for free and reduced lunches. Operation backpack works with individuals and organizations to gather donated food and supplies.

The Food Drive begins at 9am on May 12, 2011 with Special Festivities beginning at 11a.m. at the Limerick location at 542 North Lewis Road in Limerick. They will continue to collect food through May 20, 2011 then the drive will continue and culminate with the 5k Run/Fun walk at RiverFront Park in Pottstown PA.

Keller Williams Realty Group will also be holding a Blood Drive conducted by Miller-Keystone Blood Center on Thursday, May 12th from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at their Limerick location. Because there is a desperate need at this time for blood, they encourage you to stop by to show your support to this much needed cause.

For more information about RED Day and how you can participate by donating to Operation Backpack or the Blood Drive, please log on to www.kwrealtygroup.com

During RED Day 2010, over 35,000 Keller Williams associates participated in activities ranging from food and blood drives to cleaning up trash in public parks, doing yard work for neighbors in need or revamping gardens at nursing homes totaling more than 150,000 hours of service, making RED Day one of the biggest events in the real estate industry.

Keller Williams Realty Group is located at 542 North Lewis Road in Limerick, PA. Their mission is to Build Careers Worth Having, Businesses Worth Owning, and Lives Worth Living. For more information on a career in real estate, or to find out how to be a part of their growing team in Limerick, please visit their website at www.kwrealtygroup.com

Man-made waterfalls: A vision for Pottstown?

This past Friday, Joe Zlomek, Managing Editor of The Sanatoga Post, published an interesting revitalization story out of Rosemont, Illinois. You can check out the article here: “You can see the Pottstown waterfalls from Illinois.”

Joe describes the way this relatively new town created waterfalls at one of their gateways and at an entrance to a walkway along the Des Plaines River and asks readers to imagine something similar along Pottstown’s Schuylkill Riverfront.

With funding from the Schuylkill River Heritage Area and the William Penn Foundation, the Borough is in the midst of developing a Heritage Action Plan. The plan will lay out a vision, goals and objectives, and a marketing strategy for linking Schuylkill River Trail users to downtown resources, such as shops, restaurants, arts, culture, history and recreation. The River and the Trail are key to any revitalization and economic development strategy.

A working group meeting is taking place this morning, Monday, April 18 from 10:30am-noon. Anyone interested in being part of the planning or implementation of the Heritage Action Plan is welcome to attend this or future meetings.  Please send an email to PtownHAP@gmail.com or check out the Pottstown Heritage Action Plan on Facebook for more info.

A huge “THANK YOU” to Joe for giving us some creative food for thought!

Marketing Pottstown as a Trail Town: We need you!

On February 9, I first blogged about the Heritage Action Planning process getting underway in Pottstown with a grant from the Schuylkill River Heritage Area. As a consultant working with Pottstown resident Tom Carroll on implementing the grant for the Borough, I also sent out emails & a questionnaire to a list of potential “Partners” in the process.

The overall intent of creating a Heritage Action Plan (HAP) is to improve the connections between the Trail and downtown Pottstown and to identify and leverage existing arts, cultural, historical and recreational resources to spur economic activity.

Based on a few recent conversations, I’d like to give a pared down explanation of what this process is all about and why it needs strong participation from arts & cultural organizations, educational institutions, government, businesses and restaurants – all of whom are known as “Partners.”

1. When we finish the Heritage Acton Plan or HAP by the end of April, we’re going to immediately turn around and apply for $25,000 from the SRHA to enact the plan by May 2012. This isn’t going to be just another planning study that sits on a shelf; we’re going to get something done.

2. The HAP will include marketing strategies, branding, and physical enhancements to make people aware of what’s downtown.

3. We want to create a Trail Town identity for Pottstown. More and more it’s looking like High Street will become a permanent leg on the Schuylkill River Trail. As the Trail connections are completed between Philly and Pottsville, more and more people are going to be coming through Pottstown. We want them to know that they can stop in Pottstown and find something to do and something to eat. (Pottstown needs to simultaneously look at its zoning and create a package of economic development incentives for new & existing businesses downtown, too, but that’s not part of the HAP process.)

4. Visitors coming off the Trail might not be in a position to go to a nice restaurant or the Tri-PAC that day. But once we get them downtown, we want them to know EVERYTHING that’s available so they want to come back again to experience something else.

5. One of the main outcomes of this plan will likely be VISIBLE & ATTRACTIVE KIOSKS at the Riverfront Park Trailhead, at a possible new trailhead in Pollock Park in south Pottstown, and in the downtown. The trailhead kiosks will make it clear how to get to High Street. All of them will have maps and show what’s available downtown by categories like: The Arts, Historical Attractions, Casual Dining, Fine Dining, Recreation.

6. These kiosks will essentially be “telling a story” that informs and entices EVERYONE to walk around, enjoy local history & architecture, see an art show or the performing arts, and stop in at a restaurant. The marketing of Pottstown as a Trail Town is meant to touch a wider audience of visitors, not just Trail users.

7. The Schuylkill River Heritage Area wants to help the towns along the river use the Trail as an economic engine. This Heritage Action Planning process is the first step.

Anyone interested in being a Partner is invited to meet other Partners and participate in a workshop with the Schuylkill River Heritage Area’s consultants, Peter Johnston & Associates, on Friday, March 4 from 1:30-5 p.m. at the Tri-County Area Chamber of Commerce, 152 E. High Street, Pottstown, PA 19464. Please RSVP to Sue Repko at PtownHAP@gmail.com or 609-658-9043.

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.

Cheers for 2011!

I took the plunge this morning, along with about 120 other more daring Polar Bears at Pottstown’s 4th Annual Polar Bear Plunge sponsored by the Parks & Rec Department and organized by Bill & Sue Krause. Hundreds watched from the banks of the Schuylkill in Riverfront Park. Here’s a link to The Mercury’s early coverage.

I only went about thigh-deep. My feet went numb within about 10 seconds. Yes, I wore a wetsuit. With the practically balmy air temp – in the 40s – the suit was more useful as a barrier against the Schuylkill River slop that got stirred up and squished between my toes. The smell coming out of the river rivaled that of a failing septic field.  Yes, it was a uniquely charming outdoor experience.

In a surprise appearance by my younger sister and her sons, I was accompanied in the river by my brave 13-year-old nephew, Patrick, who went in a lot deeper. Thanks, you guys!! The bonfire steamed everyone dry, people continued with the tree toss, hot dogs & sauerkraut and hot chocolate warmed people up, and there were some lucky winners of a community card game. This was one more community event that drew hundreds from all around the region – an awesome start to 2011!

(If I ever figure out how to upload the video shot by my other nephew, I’ll let you know :-))

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