Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Easton Main Street Program update, meeting Thursday

The downtown manager, College Hill resident Kim Kmetz, is ready to tell of the program's successes at a public meeting 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the State Theatre gallery. The program promotes and attracts businesses downtown.

''I think they're on track, and I think what you're going to find at this meeting is they have a fairly lengthy list of accomplishments actually,'' said Marc Troutman, chairman of The Greater Easton Development Partnership, the nonprofit agency that administers the Main Street program for the city.

Accomplishments include uniting several groups such as Arts Community of Easton and downtown organizations, coordinating downtown promotional activities, issuing a monthly Golden Broom award to a business that maintains its property, preparing a newsletter and awarding grants to repair building facades.

Easton Mayor Phil Mitman said the future depends on a major fundraising campaign under way to ensure that the program continues over the next three years. The goal is to raise $1.5 million.

In addition to augmenting the Main Street program's $170,000 annual budget, Mitman said, the money would enable the Easton partnership to hire ''ambassadors'' to greet downtown visitors and do general cleaning, such as picking up litter and removing graffiti.

Lafayette College intends to be a major sponsor of the ambassador program, but Mitman said he and other Main Street volunteers are looking for other large donors.

''What we get from the state really barely covers administrative costs,'' Kmetz said. ''If you want to do anything with your program, it really needs to come from outside sources.''

Denise Sandy, owner of Ahlum Gallery, said the Main Street program has helped unify business owners and also relieved them from some of the strain of organizing promotional activities.

''It's very difficult because a lot of businesses are trying to survive and yet there's a lot of duties that need to be done,'' Sandy said.

Troy Pressens of Long & Foster Realtors said the Main Street program has not translated into increased investor interest.

''There's definitely a lot of questions about the program,'' said Pressens, who specializes in commercial real estate. ''I see a lot of potential and a lot of energy, but there's very few financial incentives within their program to really pull the investor in.''

Pressens said facade grants offered by Main Street and other financial programs offered through the Greater Easton Development Partnership seem more geared toward existing businesses.

Although Main Street doesn't have a single, visible accomplishment, such as a major redevelopment project, City Council President Sandra Vulcano said the program and the partnership have infused new energy into the downtown.

When Mitman became mayor again, one of his first priorities was to reorganize the nonprofit group and regionalize membership by aligning with the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp.

Without that restructuring and the financial support of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, Mitman said, the Main Street program would not be the success it is today.

J. Michael Dowd, Chamber vice president of Easton initiatives, also credits volunteers who serve on Main Street program committees.

''It's not a program where you say, 'We're going to impose it on you,''' he said. ''It's more a sense of what the volunteers help to create.''

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