State Sen. David Argall (R-29), chairman of the Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee chaired a public hearing on the future of Pennsylvania's Main Street and Elm Street programs on Thursday in Jim Thorpe.
"I'm the new chairman of the Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee," Argall said as he toured the Historic District of Jim Thorpe. "In the last 30 years we've seen a lot of progress here in Jim Thorpe. We are here to learn from those involved what's worked, and what hasn't worked, so that other communities can gain from their experience."
"I've been invited to lead a tour of the Pennsylvania Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee," said Elissa Garofalo. "They will be hosting hearings here at the courthouse annex on the future of the Pennsylvania Main Street and Elm Street programs."
"I was one of the original Main Street managers in the state, and I guess, in the nation. It is considered a success story. Sen. Argall, who had followed through with a similar approach in Tamaqua, now heads up this committee and has arranged to have the hearings here in Jim Thorpe," she said.
"The Main Street approach is an approach to downtown revitalization," Garofalo said. "A key to this approach is that it has four basic elements: good organization, design, economic restructuring, and promotion. It came out of the National Trust For Historic Preservation."
Garofalo said that "historic preservation is a key element. Rather than tearing down or building new, you use the historic resources to rebuild your downtown. Elm Street takes a similar approach to the neighborhoods that adjoin the downtown district."
The original Main Street pilot project came out of former Gov. Thornburgh's office in 1980. Rep. Bob Freeman (D-136) was instrumental in passing the Elm Street program.
Jim Thorpe was one of six communities in Pennsylvania selected to participate in the Main Street program. Funds to support the program in Jim Thorpe dried-up, and the Main Street manager position was discontinued in 1986 "but somehow it keeps going," Garofalo said. "I think that's the most exciting thing about the Main Street program, because if it started right, if the bones are here and the people buy into it, then you have something to work with. Then, 30 years later, voilà."
Argall said that his "first memories of Jim Thorpe were coming here as a high school wrestler for tournaments in 1972 through 1975, and I can assure you, it didn't look like this at all. This town has seen a remarkable renaissance. What is especially interesting is not only was this one of the first Main Street communities in Pennsylvania, I guess, it was one of the first in the nation. Towns like Tamaqua and Hamburg tried to learn from it."
"The first time I came to Jim Thorpe was in January 1981," Garofalo said. "I graduated from Penn State in a program that emphasized urban and regional planning. I was bitten by the preservation bug. It was New Year's Day, and I was about to interview for a job here in Jim Thorpe. I came down from the Broad Mountain down Route 93, came into town and stood on Broadway, and you could literally hear a pin drop. I challenge you to come to Jim Thorpe now and hear a pin drop."
She began the tour at the Carbon County Courthouse, walked past the Jim Thorpe National Bank building, the Inn at Jim Thorpe, the Treasure Shop, pointing out the success of (Maria) Monteleone's clothing business, and continued up Broadway to the Mauch Chunk Opera House.
Garofalo said that in the 1880s, what is now the Opera House was a two-story building the second floor was a theater and on the first floor was an open-air market. It later became a vaudeville theater, a movie theater, then fell on hard times and served as a handbag warehouse. After a couple of false starts in the 1970s and 1980s, 10 years ago local artist/entrepreneurs Dan Hugos and Vince and Christie DeGiosio joined with the historical society and revitalized it into a concert venue, offering varieties of music from bluegrass to jazz.
"Main Streets struggle at night," Garofalo said. "So The Opera House offers is a reason for people to come here at night, and to go to restaurants and bars."
The public hearing portion of the day continued at 1 p.m. at the Jim Thorpe Courthouse Annex with Argall as chairman, flanked by Rep. Jerry Knowles (R-124) and Rep. Doyle Heffley (R-122).
The following is a listing of those testifying and their subject:
ŸArgall offered opening remarks,
Ÿ Ed Geiger, Director, Center of Community Financing, Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, discussed the four-point approach that the Main Street program uses to revitalize central business districts: design, promotion, organization and economic restructuring. He discussed how his center provides assistance to communities and their successes and challenges.
Ÿ Sharon Davis, Borough Business Revitalization Coordinator, Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs has been a Main Street manager for five years in Catasauqua, Bangor, Bath and Pen Argyl. She spoke about her work, and then introduced James Gloria, artistic director at Totts Gap Art Institute in Upper Mount Bethel Township.
Ÿ Jeff Feeser, director, Housing and Community Development, Schuylkill Community Action, spoke about Pottsville's Elm Street program.
Ÿ Micah Gursky, borough council president, Borough of Tamaqua, spoke about how the Main Street program helped to revitalize Tamaqua.
Ÿ Garofalo, President/Executive Director of D&L National Heritage Corridor, Inc. spoke about her experience as a Main Street manager and advised that there is no "cookie-cutter approach" for all communities.
Ÿ Bill Fontana, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Downtown Center, talked about the new businesses created, building projects and jobs created through the Main Street programs, and the future of funding these projects.
Ÿ Rep Bob Freeman (D-136), Prime Sponsor of House Bill 700, the Elm Street legislation, discuss funding and the future of the Main Street and Elm Street programs.