Leaders showcase downtown York revitalization gains


"Great things are happening."

That was an oft-repeated phrase at Tuesday's Downtown Update, a public presentation hosted by Downtown Inc in the White Rose Room at Santander Stadium.

In the audience were owners of downtown businesses, leaders of organizations in the community, politicians and citizens.

Genevieve Ray, a former city council president and current board member of the Heritage Trust and the Susquehanna Gateway Heritage Area, was optimistic but cautious.

"It's all good. It's good that people are excited about stuff happening downtown, that there's a better coordination of efforts than we've had in the past," she said. "But we're still lacking really substantive development."

Ray, who was involved in some of the city's first revitalization efforts after Hurricane Agnes in 1972, said she would like to see stronger neighborhoods.

Disconnect: Jimmy Ilyes, manager of the Market & Penn Farmers Market in Weco (west of the Codorus Creek), spoke of his desire for the market to be an anchor for the three neighborhoods surrounding it.

"There's been a disconnect," he said. He would like the market to serve as a neighborhood grocery.

Ilyes, whose family sold produce in the market as far back as the 1930s, spoke of the market's outreach efforts, including a program through which teachers from Lincoln Charter School bring their students to the market to learn how to shop. Each child gets a $5 voucher, thanks to a grant.

Another community outreach program involves delivering packages of food to the elderly.

The market is going through a rebranding process and has received much help from various organizations in the community, and Ilyes said he's grateful.

Ilyes said a meeting of the market's shareholders was held for the first time in 30 years. More than half of the market's 3,000 shares have not yet been sold, he said, and he urged members of the audience to think about investing.

Investment and collaboration were the two main themes of the event.

Looking good: Downtown Inc deputy director Tim Miller and intern Adam Walters presented an interactive map, a "streetscape inventory" of downtown York.

By carefully surveying the area, Walters plotted "assets and impairments," elements that add to and detract from the overall downtown experience.

Walters charted downtown sites in categories including signage, connectivity, public blight and possible obstacles for pedestrians.

A common obstacle was ill-maintained tree wells, which present a tripping hazard.

"In some cases, grates inside wells were stolen and there was a four- to six-inch dropoff," Miller said.

This is one of the "physical pitfalls" of downtown that the organization aims to "chip away at," Miller said.

And there is already help on the way. The rescue mission and the City of York are partnering with Downtown Inc. to provide the manpower and supplies, respectively, to repair the tree wells.

Assets: Miller and Tim Fulton, the organization's program coordinator, said beautification is one of Downtown Inc's efforts to attract and retain residents.

Another is to make downtown a place that contributes to people's health, happiness and well-being.

To that end, the organization has plans to extend the York County Heritage Rail Trail, connecting York College with downtown York and extending to Route 30 by 2018. The organization is still seeking funding for the project.

Downtown Inc also plans to illuminate seven building facades in Continental Square and each bridge over the Codorus Creek with LED lights.

The former Citizens Bank will be one of the illuminated buildings, with plans to convert the structure into eight to 10 apartments, a bistro with alfresco dining on the square, arts-related components on the ground-floor level and mezzanine and a roof deck. The project is still in its very early stages.

Culture: Cal Weary, CEO of Weary Arts Group, pitched storytelling as a way to enhance York.

The Weary Arts Group, he said, is building a "video nook" at Marketview Arts. Members of the public will be able to visit the space and learn how to use film as a medium for storytelling, and White Rose Community Television will broadcast them.

Todd Fogdall, the new president and CEO of the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center, presented another opportunity for Yorkers to tell stories: a program in which students will write plays and see them performed.

Fogdall stressed his desire for the Strand-Capitol to be a "community centerpiece" and for it to engage young people.

He recently moved to York from the Midwest and is surprised by people who, upon meeting him, lower their voices and ask, "So, why did you come to York?"

"There are few spaces with this vibrancy," Fogdall said, adding that he loves it here.