Main St. Program
runs low on funds
By JEFF McCREADY
TRIBUNE-DEMOCRAT BUSINESS WRITER
   Johnstown’s Main Street program, which has championed downtown revitalization, is running out of cash as its manager continues to work without pay to keep development momentum going.
   The Main Street program is in its fifth year, the last in which it can get money from the state. State money will run out Dec. 31.
   The local program is working to revitalize the Central Business District through the Johnstown Business District Coalition. Projects include developing the first and lower levels of the Central Park Complex for retail, from which the coalition will receive rental revenue from tenants.
   Richard Dill, coalition executive director and Main Street manager, said Dec. 31 is the deadline the group has set for deciding where it is going and how it fits into the community.
   The executive director of the Pennsylvania Downtown Center told the coalition Wednesday it must document accomplishments and make goals for the next three to five years if it is to be successful in obtaining money.
   "Downtown revitalization always is long term," Timothy Dempsey, the center’s executive director, told coalition members during a 90-minute presentation at the complex, Franklin and Locust streets. The former department store was bought by Cambria County several years ago.
   William Homer, a coalition board member who also is president of its real estate arm, said no one championed the Central Business District until the coalition came along.
   He said the coalition has developed a vision for the downtown and has carried out or been Involved in numerous projects, including the new Rite-Aid
   
store at 507 Main St.
   Local and private funding, Dempsey said, are needed to carry Main Street programs through the second or growth phase, which can last 10 to 15 years.
   The first phase is the catalyst in which the program develops initial support and the third is the manager phase, in which the concentration is on long-term funding.
   Also during the presentation, coalition members admitted that the organization needed to work more closely with other groups, including Greater Johnstown-Cambria County Chamber of Commerce and Johnstown City Council.
   The Department of Community and. Economic Development, which funds the state’s Main Street program, allocated $90,000 to the Johnstown program for its first three years. The state allows individual programs to apply for more money in the fourth and fifth years. The Johnstown program received $20,000 in the fourth year and is awaiting word whether its $20,000 request will be funded this year.
   Dempsey said it is essential for local government to make a commitment through an annual appropriation or a contract for services.
   He said legislation allows the creation of assessment districts in which for-profit operations pay a tax that is used specifically for improving that area.
   Currently, 67 percent of the businesses in the proposed district would have to approve the measure.
   In some cases, he said, nonprofits will make a donation in lieu of taxes, the amount of which is determined on an individual basis.
   Dempsey said assessment districts have been successful in areas where they have been initiated.
   Dill said it sounded like a good idea, but that it might be "a little premature" to try to initiate it here.
Used with permission of The Tribune-Democrat
The Tribune-Democrat, September 23, 1999
Jeff McCready is a business writer for the Tribune-Democrat

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