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Lancaster needs industry. Retirement is an industry. Downtown Lancaster needs a shot in the arm. Why could these not be coupled?
Baby Boomers are entering retirement in large numbers and those numbers will continue for quite some time to come. People who have spent their working lives in the North and Midwest want to escape the long, frigid winters and, contrary to popular belief, not every retiree wants to live on a golf course. Many people desire the ambiance of a vibrant downtown, where everything is within easy walking distance.
Lancaster’s downtown has a characteristic not present in most small towns which would lend itself nicely to the creation of a vibrant community. That characteristic is three parallel streets – White, Main and Catawba.
Picture Main Street closed to vehicles from Meeting Street to Elm Street. Picture, too, all the east/west crossing streets closed to vehicles and the entire area converted into a pedestrian mall. For convenience, there could be one crossing street, two at the most, Arch, perhaps, or Gay, to connect Catawba with White.
Within this new area, existing buildings would be restored and refurbished, making it attractive, friendly, convenient, safe and inviting. Two-story buildings could have commercial or retail offices at street level and apartments in the upper stories. The several empty lots on Main and between Catawba and White streets could be built upon to provide even more retail and living spaces and parking.
Yes, some empty lots are open spaces at present, but Main Street would have been made into one continuous, open space. Picture a variety of small stores and businesses serving the new influx of downtown residents, as well as the current residents of Lancaster.
Picture for example, a bakery, a wine shop, a coffee shop, a deli, an Internet cafe, an art gallery showing the works of local artists. The list of possible businesses is long. Maybe a small local grocery could be enticed to build or to renovate one of the existing buildings.
What would be the benefits? It could turn a cheerless downtown with few apparent prospects into a proud, living community with people strolling, visiting, living, buying and selling. Done well (and why waste time and money doing it poorly), it could change downtown to uptown. Renovating the buildings would create jobs. The improvements to the buildings would increase the city’s tax base. Both of these would benefit all its citizens.
What would be the downside? Personally, I can’t see a downside. People would complain at first about changed traffic patterns, then decide that it was actually more efficient than before.
What would it take? Money comes first to mind, but there is federal and state money available for urban renewal and community development. There is also private money from investors who see a serious commitment on the part of the planners. There would have to be a comprehensive plan, but there is still something with higher priority than a plan. The first and most important task would be to inspire a common vision. Let’s be honest. It’s easier to do nothing, but nothing begets nothing. It seems, then that the first requirement would be a common vision growing out of a common desire to lift Lancaster and see it prosper.
All of this would require careful planning and execution, particularly in regards to existing businesses which front the streets that would be closed. The goal is to entice new residents and new business would have to accomplished without restricting or damaging the prospects of existing businesses.
Done wisely, it would make uptown Lancaster a showpiece and would substantially improve the prospects of existing businesses.
Admittedly, this is the bare bones of a vision, but it is a vision.
Chris Sherrill is a paralegal and author of “What Rough Beast” and “Taylor’s Kin” (due out soon). He grew up in York County and is a recent transplant to Lancaster County. You can find him on the web at www.chrissherill.com.