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Oh, how this area could benefit from a Cultural Center

Lock Haven has much to be proud of.

The charming little city along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River is, in many ways, a throwback to the past with its generally quiet neighborhoods and rural solitude compared to the big cities.

But it can be too quiet.

Lock Haven will never be State College or Williamsport, nor should it.

Still, it needs more appeal and identity to attract more visitors — and locals — into its downtown and surroundings.

It needs to become a place where people in neighboring areas and across Pennsylvania and beyond want to visit more frequently for a concert or show, an event, to dine and shop, heck, to even just walk the levee and watch the sunrise or sunset.

Ask the merchants, they’ll tell you.

Turning the historic Masonic Temple in downtown Lock Haven into a cultural-business-community-performing arts center can do just that … and more.

We applaud the two nonprofits — Downtown Lock Haven Inc. and the Clinton County Arts Council — for taking on the task of converting the building to public use and as a special arts-entertainment-tourism venue for the city and county.

And a big “thank you” to members of Lodge 199, Free & Accepted Masons, for offering to essentially gift the building to the community.

The Masons have been faithful stewards of this neo-classical revival brick structure with its iconic pillars for nearly 100 years.

And in earlier times, this elegant building was a central hub of community activities that served the common good and built pride in Lock Haven.

The two nonprofits’ plan is ambitious, but it’s one that has been accomplished in many other communities across Pennsylvania and the nation.

As The Express story of Jan. 17 said, walking into the building at Main and Grove streets is like walking back in time.

“This dominant and very representative, neo-classical revival building was designed by Philadelphia architects, Stearns & Woodnutt. The contractors were Boydhouse-Aray, also from Philadelphia,” states the Pennsylvania Historic Resource Survey of the state Bureau of Historic Preservation.

“It is a very significant building, contributing much to the varied architecture of the city. Of the eight neo-classical revival buildings in Lock Haven, it is one of the five most significant prime examples of the style. The grand scale of this building and its lavish entry are dominant features on Lock Haven’s Main Street.”

The effort announced at Downtown Lock Haven’s Time Out the evening of Jan. 16 is not just about a cultural center, it’s about saving one of the most historic structures in all of Central Pennsylvania.

“We want to assure (everyone) that our plans will not cannibalize or threaten existing businesses, art galleries, institutions, performance theaters or clubs,: Steve Getz, Arts Council president, said in announcing the parties are close to finalizing a five-year, sales option agreement.

“To the contrary, our hope and goals are that this facility will be a collaborative asset that works to make our area a more attractive place to live, work, play and visit,” he added.

Yes, ask any merchant in the business district and they’ll tell you the area needs more visitors to boost the economy by driving more people into stores, restaurants and clubs, and to generate more private investment in downtown.

Office space, winter theatre productions, an artist in residence, a music and recording studio, a video library, a performing arts hall … these are some of the possibilities for the new center.

Area businesses could potentially display their products and services there to attract visitors to their businesses.

And through collaboration, this center could drive more business to The Elks’ Main Event banquet-reception room just down the street.

This will be a formidable task.

Those involved said they understand the cost estimates to preserve the building, make it handicap-accessible and more usable will be high.

They’re determined to take a methodical and realistic approach to raising private donations, grant funds and other monies to re-purpose the 1924-era structure.

They want to start with a feasibility study to determine what money and sweat it will take.

Done right, and with significant support, a Cultural-Community-Performance Center could be a game-changer here.

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