A Good Start
I really enjoyed the Downtown Visioning meeting last night at the library, well as much as you can enjoy something that begins with an almost hour-long Powerpoint presentation. Julie Fitzpatrick from the Pennsylvania Downtown Center and Hanover Chamber leader Gary laird laid things out for everyone for the first half of the meeting.
After that, we got down to the nitty gritty and worked in small groups to identify strengths and opportunities for downtown as well as identify words we hoped people would use to describe the area in 10 years.
As the story in the paper says, a lot of people had the same ideas, which is a good thing. Whether those things will come to fruition is another thing. Here are some bullet point thoughts of mine from the evening:
- Fitzpatrick pointed out that there are not an unlimited number of options for a community’s vision. She pointed to Gettysburg (acknowledging that she could have used a better example given the proximity) never being able to escape the Civil War connection. In return, I think Hanover will have similar boundaries, namely an unwillingness by some to ever consider downtown as anything other than what they grew up with in the 1950s and 1960s. Laird said it well at the beginning, a revitalized downtown won’t look like it did back then, but it can still have a strong sense of place.
- The first step is creating a vision statement, something that talks about what we want downtown to be based on “current market realities and assets.” No pie in the sky, no fancy dreams. Hopefully that means the occasionally-mentioned Parking Garage of Success (that is what I am dubbing the notion that downtown will show success when a huge concrete structure is built for cars) is a non-starter.
- As we move forward, I hope we distinguish between wanting more public entertainment events and the existing inventory of entertainment events. Some groups talked about wanting more music and cultural events. I maintain that these things already exist – lots of them. Instead of pretending that the Sheppard Mansion, the Warehime-Myers Mansion and Reader’s cafe (among others) don’t have music events, let’s find a way to supplement those with similar activities in the square.
- I really liked one group’s discussion of the strength which comes from the churches downtown, both architecturally and in their programming. That same group also talked about the opportunity of bringing together the many Christmas bazaars and other events to create one celebration. While there could be turf wars, etc., I hope this idea gets traction. The downtown merchants showed last year how Shop Around Downtown could yield positive results by working together. I hope other groups follow suit.
- A lot of groups talked about getting an dedicated educational facility downtown for a community college or trade school. This one will be tough since there are already so many branches of so many places, but I really hope it happens. Reading the Hanover High School newspaper recently showed a bunch of kids are going to HACC, many of them to the Gettysburg campus. Let’s keep those kids in town for school (eating at our restaurants, shopping at our stores, etc.).
- I say this mostly jokingly, but if everyone in the room pitched in $1,000 and offered to work a shift or two each week, we could probably start that elusive casual restaurant/pub that I think everyone wants downtown.
With the exception of two women at the table in front of me who would not add their names to the signup sheet and refused to participate in any group discussions, a ton of positive energy came out of the meeting. Fitzpatrick talked about five things which need to exist to effect complex change – vision, resources, skills, incentive and an action plan. If you miss one of those, something goes wrong.
I know the resources exist and people with the right skills have the incentive to craft a vision. If the action plan can come together and people can put aside their own pettiness and accept a future which features the combined vision of many instead of their own blueprint, we have good days ahead of us.
I might even accept a parking garage. Maybe.