Downtown Inc. makes case for more funding

By WENDY STIVER

wstiver@lockhaven.com

LOCK HAVEN — “When we work together, we have a stronger, more vibrant downtown,” said Josh Grimes, president of the Downtown Lock Haven Inc. Board of Directors.

He and other members of the Downtown Inc. board, the nonprofit group that boosts the city’s commercial district, asked for more support at City Council’s meeting Monday night. The group asked for a $15,000 allocation in the city’s 2017 budget, compared with the $10,000 the city has given in the past.

The Downtown Inc. efforts encompass holiday events as well as garnering grant money for new facades, he said. In addition, an active downtown district helps the city’s grant applications for streetscape money, he said.

The board realizes that funding is a challenge, he said, and many meetings have been held over the organization’s future.

The Hometown Hero Banner Program was a major fundraiser at one time, Grimes said, but over the most recent banner cycles, it has “consistently declined,” and those revenues can no longer fund the organization’s budget. This year Downtown Inc. will have to turn to its reserves to plug its deficit, which is projected at $22,000, according to board treasurer Jeff Miller.

Support from the city is one piece of the puzzle in meeting the budgetary needs, Grimes said.

Downtown Inc. wants to be a marketing, promotional force for the member businesses and the commercial district, he said, but it currently is operating under a bare bones budget.

Downtown Manager Natasha Gorham showed a digital presentation highlighting what the organization does.

While she was setting it up, Grimes said, “We don’t want to push pause on the organization and lose momentum.”

The presentation included a list of other local organizations Downtown Inc. works with to develop events promoting the shopping district. It also reminded council of the successful LH JAMS jazz and art festival held on Main Street this summer, and stated that Downtown Inc. is continually seeking design funding to help make the district a more attractive place to tourists.

Steve Getz, president of the Clinton County Arts Council and a downtown board member, created the presentation.

“There is a synergy between what we do on the arts council and what we do downtown,” he said. “Revitalization starts with the arts.”

Downtown Inc. has an ambitious outlook and would like to not only fund its budget but increase it so the organization can do more. Concentrating on fundraisers, however, reduces the number of other goals it can accomplish, the board members told council.

Mayor William E. Baney III suggested Downtown Inc. do more to promote tourism. When he was running for the mayor’s seat last year, he said, he heard more outreach is needed and suggested roadside signs directing people to “Lock Haven, a great place to live.”

“That’s a great idea,” Grimes said, “but we have been so focused on getting a breathe of air that we haven’t had the focus to look at a new initiative.”

The mayor also suggested a new streetlight banner program that would showcase local sports heroes.

There are roughly 12 vacant spaces in the downtown, Gorham said in answer to a question from Councilman Ted Forbes. Only a few are downtown Main Street storefronts, she said.

Forbes recommended Downtown Inc. hire a specialist to help market the businesses.

“I love this town,” he said. “We’re so close to being a place where a lot of people would come.”

Grimes said the organization plans to bring people in next year and find out what sort of marketing assistance they need, with the aim of finding workable solutions.

Forbes also repeated his complaint about the unsightliness of the current trash cans, which were installed by the city, not Downtown Inc.

Councilman Douglas T. Byerly asked about a longterm capital plan, and Gorham said the organization does need a five-year plan showing it is sustainable. With such a plan, Downtown Inc. can try again to earn the official Main Street designation from the state which can help with acquiring grants.

Instead of just asking the city and county for funding, the organization also wants to grow its membership and to approach corporations for help, she said.

Later in the meeting, Baney asked her about the Santa 5K Run/Walk, a new event that Downtown Inc. plans for 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3, the same day as the Haven Holidays celebration. For the Santa 5K, everyone is encouraged to dress like Santa, Mrs. Claus, an elf, or another holiday character.

Forms to sign up to participate will be on the Downtown Inc. website at www.lockhaven.org by the end of the week, Gorham said.

“Are you going to sign up?” she asked the mayor.

When he said he would, she said, “I’ll save you a beard!”

OTHER MATTERS

In other business, council recognized the Walmart Foundation for giving $2,000 to buy a ballistic shield for the city police department. A local beauty salon also helped fund the purchase, City Manager Richard W. Marcinkevage said.

New stop signs are coming to Myrtle Street. First Quality plans to receive many loads of fill soil in the near future, the city manager said, and stop signs will be added on Myrtle Street at the railroad crossing to accommodate the traffic load. A temporary haul road will run from East Walnut Street, parallel to the railroad tracks, to the fill site, and stop signs will be needed on that road as well, Marcinkevage said. The fill may be for a new building at the First Quality plant.

The city has received the results of the annual audit from Baker, Tilly, LLP, Marcinkevage said, and they were generally the same as usual — no significant findings, but with some recommendations about changing procedures, including hiring more city staff members so that separate funds can be handled by separate staffers. The city has not looked favorably on hiring more staff in the past.

The levee passed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ routine levee inspection at the end of 2015. The inspection report includes a few things that need to be done, Marcinkevage said, including removing some trees and testing relief wells near First Quality.

A letter from Lock Haven Hospital CEO Steven Davis reported the hiring of a urologist, Dr. Robert Grzonka, and a cardiologist, Dr. Paul Suri, to work locally.

Art Dawes, who was given permission to use Canal Park for wilderness training earlier in the year, is now presenting “The Outdoor Skills and Camping Series” of monthly classes on the Ross Library lawn, next to the library parking lot, council learned. Dawes is the owner and lead instructor of Pennsylvania Wilderness Skills Survival Training and is offering the free monthly classes the second Tuesday of the month at 5 p.m.

Citizen’s Hose Co. was granted permission to close Leather Alley for its Christmas tree sale Nov. 23 through Dec. 28.

The city now knows it will need to contribute at least $301,713 to the two pension funds — $182,904 to the police fund and $118,809 to the fund for other city employees, Marcinkevage said. However, the city won’t know until next September if state aid will cover the full amount as it did this year, he said.

Tax claim collections for the third quarter of the year totaled $53,289, and earned income taxes collected for part of October totaled $25,868.

A proposed, detailed parking plan, including whether or not to raise parking fees, will come before council during budget planning, the city manager said in answer to a question from Byerly.

Council Vice President Stephen L. Stevenson said he attended the “Nineteen Heroes” ceremony Saturday morning in Veterans Park honoring the memory of 19 men with local ties who died in the Vietnam War. He thanked Ken and Karen Shadle for funding a memorial to these men and said such a memorial was long overdue.

Councilman Jonathan Bravard reminded everyone to vote today.

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