HAMBURG >> Our Town Foundation invites the community and local groups to help plan the future of the Hamburg area.
“It needs to be the community’s vision, so that’s why we’ve involved so many people,” said OTF President Steve Keiffer, formerly Hamburg School District superintendent, who will be facilitating the meetings. “There are a lot of groups that have been talking about it would be nice if we had this business in town, or it would be nice if we had more foot traffic in downtown, and how can we work closer with other partners around our community.”
Vision planning meetings will be held to create a Hamburg area community vision plan for the next five years. Meetings will be held Jan. 26, Feb. 23 and March 29 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Hamburg Strand Theater, 6 S. Fourth St., Hamburg.
“A community should redo their visioning efforts every five to 10 years,” said OTF Executive Director Deena Kershner. “What really prompted it is if we want to continue to be known as a Keystone Core Community, which is what they’re now calling the Main Street Programs (Hamburg needed to create a new vision plan for the next five years).”
Keiffer said the vision planning process is about more than the requirement to remain a Keystone Core Community.
“I think it’s really a necessity if we want to really paint this picture of what we want the community to look like,” said Keiffer.
“He’s absolutely right. It’s not just because we’re being required to do it. We need to do that to move forward,” said Kershner. “We don’t want to do projects if the community doesn’t want that in the community. We’re struggling to get different businesses to relocate here in town so we want to maybe address why and how we can start recruiting businesses to come to town.”
When asked if there were any issues OTF wants to address, Keiffer said he believes the issues will come out in the first meeting or two.
“The issues are going to be defined by the group,” said Keiffer. “Maybe something that is an issue to many people may not be an issue to me, for instance, and vice versa. That’s why we’re going through this process, to identify what the issues are. Maybe people like downtown just the way it is.”
OTF will start with identifying Hamburg’s strengths.
“There’s a lot of things that the Our Town Foundation has done in the past 10 years that have been very positive for the community, so we’re going to start with that,” said Keiffer.
Highlights since OTF’s designation as a Main Street Community in 2002 include the creation of The Taste of Hamburg-er Festival in 2004, creation of the Hamburg Arts Alliance and the Art and Craft Gallery in 2006, Hamburg’s certification as a Native Wildlife Habitat Community in 2006, completion of a $1.5 million streetscape enhancement project, senior housing project completed at site of blighted knitting mill, designation as Elm Street Community and Southgate Neighborhood Revitalization Program begun in 2010, weekly downtown farmers market in 2011, completed Affordable Housing Program in 2013, purchase of Hamburg Strand and purchase of vacant lot within downtown Main Street corridor in 2015 to host events, as well as other OTF promotional activities, events, façade programs and smaller beautification issues, according to OTF.
“There will be change. There’s no doubt about that. There’s change all around us. We will change. This is just an effort to determine what that change looks like,” said Keiffer.
The first meeting will set the groundwork followed by the second meeting serving as a workshop and the third and final meeting to complete the vision planning process.
“We will start by talking about the good things that Our Town Foundation has done and the good things that have happened in the community. I’m also going to talk about some of the development that’s going to be happening around the community that will definitely impact the community and how do we want to react to that,” said Keiffer.
Keiffer said he enjoys brainstorming and generating ideas to improve something. In the past, he facilitated strategic plans for several different school districts. He retired as Hamburg superintendent June 30, 2015, and was asked to be president of OTF the following week.
“I am very pleased that he accepted,” said Kershner, noting that Keiffer has brought to OTF his knowledge of the business community, his leadership roles and his knowledge of local economic development.
“I’m very interested in the economic development in the area,” said Keiffer. “We’ve had a lot of developments, mostly around the Cabela’s area ,but there are other projects that are on the books right now that could have a very positive impact, not only financially for the school districts and municipalities but also jobs.”
Keiffer named a few projects slated for the local area. Key Development Group of West Chester is planning the Hamburg Logistics Park in Perry Township. King Development Group purchased two farms north of Perry Golf Course, planning to subdivide for commercial development. Also, there will be a new car dealer, Manderbach Ford, at the Grand Street Extension in Hamburg Borough, as well as a new convenience store called Rutter’s Farm Store.
“There’s certainly more room for development in the borough,” said Keiffer.
Kershner noted that one of the things OTF has been trying to facilitate is improving their relations with the Reading Railroad Heritage Museum and how OTF can assist the museum bring in more tourists and attract them to the downtown.
“That’s going to be part of our visioning,” said Keiffer. “What do we want our downtown to look like? Do we want more people downtown shopping; if so, how are we going to get them there?”
Kershner said so much has occurred over the past 10 to 15 years just with the fact that Cabela’s opened in Tilden Township.
“We now have that whole commercial area over in Tilden Township and that has really influenced the downtown, some positive, some negative. If you just look back 10 to 12 years ago, the whole community has changed. That’s why we’re saying change happens, we just want to push it in the right direction if we can,” said Kershner.
“For a long time I think people looked at Cabela’s and the development there as a negative,” said Keiffer. “I think we need to look at it as a positive and make them partners of what we’re trying to do here. The biggest impact that has on us is that brings millions of people within a mile of our community and one of our tasks I believe is to figure out how to get those millions of people to come to our downtown.”
Anyone who would like to attend the vision planning meetings should reserve their space by calling 610-562-3106 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org no later than Friday, Jan. 22.