Freeman bill seeks to extend Main Street program, which has been a resounding success in Easton
EASTON, Pa. — Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives has passed a piece of legislation that could help extend the state’s Main Street program for up to a total of 10 years.
And Easton officials say the city is an example of what can be accomplished by the program.
State Rep. Robert Freeman on Tuesday announced the passing of his signature House Bill 450, which would provide the state Department of Community and Economic Development authority to grant up to an additional five years for administrative costs associated with employing a Main Street manager if it determines that it would help the community attain revitalization goals.
- State Rep. Robert Freeman's Bill 450, which aims to extend funding for Main Street program managers across the state, has passed the House and is headed to the Senate
- If the bill passes, it could provide more time for communities to carefully implement long-term solutions tailored to their needs in downtown districts
- Easton's Main Street program was highlighted as a success story of the greater overall initiative, with Freeman noting the numerous accolades it has received in its time
“A community’s Main Street initiative often just gets started with implementing its revitalization plan when the funding ends, undermining the ability to realize the plan’s objectives," Freeman, D-Northampton, said.
"With the addition of this needed option of a program extension, communities would be better positioned to fully succeed in their objectives for revitalization and enhancements to downtown commercial areas.”
Easton Main Street Program an example
Freeman noted his proposal would give the department the opportunity to determine whether additional time “would make all the difference in ensuring that the plan is fully implemented, and the revitalization objectives are met.”
“I was seeing people taking their kids out in strollers for ice cream and coming to see the live music and I was just like, ‘Okay, it's happening, you know it's happening.’ And five years just isn't enough time to make that swing."Kim Kmetz, manager, Easton Main Street Initiative
The Main Street Act was created to provide grants for commercial downtown revitalization efforts, including infrastructure improvements, marketing and promoting the established commercial downtown with the Main Street area, along with façade grants, all under the direction of a Main Street manager.
Currently, grants for a maximum of five years may be made to support and implement the efforts of that manager.
In particular, Freeman lauded Easton’s Main Street Program, which became nationally accredited in 2007.
Since then, the program has been recognized with awards from the Pennsylvania Downtown Center, the city of Easton, Lafayette College, Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp., Pennsylvania Pursuits magazine and Two Rivers Area Chamber of Commerce and was declared the top performing Main Street Program in Pennsylvania four times.
Mayor Sal Panto Jr. praised the Main Street Program, noting it to be a hallmark of his “safe and clean” initiative which has led to the revitalization of Easton’s Downtown and other areas.
'I think this would be helpful'
Panto said he thinks the extension could prove beneficial to other municipalities developing their own programs.
“A lot of cities that are just starting their resurgence, and I think this would be helpful,” Panto said.
“I think Representative Freeman, he was one of the leaders in trying to bring back the resurgence of the downtowns, and he has done a tremendous job helping Easton, and I think this would be beneficial for the rest of the state.”Easton Mayor Sal Panto Jr.
“I think Representative Freeman, he was one of the leaders in trying to bring back the resurgence of the downtowns, and he has done a tremendous job helping Easton, and I think this would be beneficial for the rest of the state.”
Kim Kmetz, who has served as the manager of the Easton Main Street Initiative for 17 years, said she could see clear benefits in extending the program, as “the magic of this is slow, incremental change” which can take a community years to tailor to their specific needs.
“I often tell the story that when I was starting out, it was years six or seven, I was out to dinner with my husband downtown, and all of a sudden, I was seeing couples walking around holding hands and going to restaurants," Kmetz said.
"I was seeing people taking their kids out in strollers for ice cream and coming to see the live music and I was just like, ‘OK, it's happening, you know, it's happening.’ "
"And five years just isn't enough time to make that swing."
'What makes it authentic and real'
Kmetz noted the various projects linked to the Greater Easton Development Partnership, including the farmers’ and public markets, the community garden program, citywide composting, the West Ward Community Initiative and other projects which have grown from the Main Street Program in Easton as examples of what extra time, development and understanding can do for a community striving for change.
“You have to understand your own community and build on the assets that you have," she said. "That's what makes it a complete package. That's what makes it authentic and real."
“I think that it is important for people to really understand that Main Street is grassroots and volunteer-driven."Kim Kmetz, manager of Easton Main Street Initiative
"And honestly, in my 17 years of doing this work, I've seen a lot and I've seen a lot of attempts at other things. I would honestly tell you that the Main Street methodology is about the only thing in economic development that really, really works, and it's true and authentic."
But for the program to truly succeed, Kmetz said, it takes community dedication to use funding and planning effectively, letting residents, visitors and everyone else enjoy the fruits of the labor.
“I think that it is important for people to really understand that Main Street is grassroots and volunteer-driven,” Kmetz said.
“It's meant to be a bottom-up program, not a top-down, and we don't want people sitting around a conference table saying, ‘Well, this is what we ought to do.’
"This comes from the people who live here, who work here, who own buildings here, who own businesses here. And that is the beauty because what happens through this program is what the people want to happen and that's why it's sustainable.”