Changes are Happening Downtown

13923608_1125861804145320_478278065488271990_oLast year, Downtown Chambersburg Inc. (DCI) completed a visioning and master planning process anchored in the Main Street economic development model, a comprehensive, community-based approach to downtown revitalization. Since then, quite a bit of investment has occurred and more is in the works. We thought we would devote this week’s newsletter to bringing you up to date on downtown revitalization efforts and implementation of the master plan.

$30+ Million in Planned Investment

Investment comes in many forms: planning, programming, new businesses, public art projects, capital ventures and more. It’s often difficult to see this investment if it’s not right in front of you. One tool we use to “show” some of the investment occurring in downtown Chambersburg is in this Downtown Investment Map. This map tracks small and larger scale investment that has occurred since 2008 and/or is being planned. The investment map includes all projects that have been publicly disclosed to date.
Over $30 million dollars of investment, shown on this map with the red points, is planned over the next few years. Recently, Franklin County Government announced its intentions to evaluate a renovation and/or expansion of the courthouse complex. Shown on this map in purple squares, is investment from the County.
This map also reflects some public infrastructure projects that have been completed and or are being planned by the Borough, in the green circles. Several of these projects, including the Rhodes Drive Green Street Project and other parking lot improvements were in the downtown master plan.

Vacancy Rate is Down

Last spring, downtown had a storefront vacancy rate around 6%. Now, in just over a year, the vacancy rate has been cut in half to around 3%. Several new businesses have opened or relocated downtown this year.
The Foundry, an artist cooperative at 100 S. Main St., opened up during the holidays and J. Bryant Photography & Designs moved to 76 S. Main St. in the spring, while Jenz Family Connection Thrift Store moved up the street to 56 S. Main St. The Garage Studios, an artist collaborative studio and retail space, is currently renovating 102/104 S. Main St. with plans to open with regular hours in the near future. Best Laid Seams, a custom sewing/alterations, costume, couture, embroidery and upholstery shop, opened up two weeks ago at 115 N. Main St. The Gift Enclosure will soon move back to their permanent location at 78 S. Main St. in a newly renovated space.
Great restaurants have opened as well. Veroni Café moved from Jim’s Farmers Market to 12 W. King St. last month and Fusión re-opened in a new space at 175 S. Main Street a few weeks ago. Ping’s Restaurant at 120 S. Main St. will also re-open sometime in the coming months. Jan Zell Wines opened last fall at 251 Grant St. and Gearhouse Brewing Co. plans to open at 253 Grant St. later this fall.
DCI created a Window Walk on Main program this summer to spotlight available downtown storefront properties in downtown with featured displays rotating every few months. Since launching in July, three of the six vacant properties have been rented. In addition, Mercantile Home, an Easton-based creative lifestyle shop will open a pop-up shop at 1 N. Main from October 3-9.

Boosting Marketing, Promotions and Art

DCI launched a new, mobile-responsive website at the beginning of 2016 that promotes downtown businesses, events and investment along with a new downtown guide and parking map.
A successful social media presence continues to build a strong following and engage the community. Through an interaction with the Downtown Chambersburg Facebook page, DCI partnered with a local Pokemon enthusiast, Jessica Rave, to coordinate several PokeParty events, which will continue this fall. These events bring people downtown to boost traffic at local businesses in the evenings.
DCI also wrapped up an extensive series of focus groups to help inform a future branding initiative. What we learned is the community loves and supports downtown but we need to work to increase the mix of retail, restaurant and entertainment options. We also learned that we need to better promote the offerings we do have. To help with these efforts, a new banner campaign will roll out by the end of this year as well as a series of videos to promote various downtown businesses, places and events.
Public art is expanding downtown, as well. DCI partnered with local art teacher Holly Strayer on the Chambersburg Community Mural Project, which raised over $24,000 to install two large-scale mosaic murals this summer. This project exemplified the power of people, community building and creative placemaking. A street piano program will be piloted downtown this fall with a partnership with NETwork Ministries. In addition, a public arts committee has formed and more projects are on the horizon.

Making Planning and Zoning a Priority

Planning and zoning has a role in economic development that is misunderstood and often dismissed because, frankly, it’s boring. Since the completion of the Downtown Master Plan, DCI raised over $30,000 for a Bike and Pedestrian Improvements Plan, which is currently underway. A public workshop is scheduled for Wednesday, October 5 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Bard Hall at 235 S. Third St.

DCI also initiated an important conversation about zoning and how it can help facilitate economic development. DCI presented a case for zoning to the Planning and Zoning Commission and Borough Council last spring, and the Commission will revisit downtown zoning during its comprehensive plan update in 2017.
Another outcome of the Master Plan is working with stakeholders to investigate community gardens. A working group is currently working on that and a community interest survey will be rolled out community-wide this fall.
Successful downtown revitalization efforts require vision, planning and action. We are well on our way to seeing change in our downtown. Special thanks to our Downtown Partners for their vision and support of DCI.