At a second meeting designed to shape the future of Sharon, city officials, residents and business owners brainstormed about establishing a vision plan for the city.
“We are trying to figure out how to have a collective vision and actions of how to make Sharon better,” said Melissa Phillips, Sharon’s community and economic development director. “The goal of this is going to be secure funding for a downtown coordinator to really help us make sure that all of our businesses are working together.”
A $15,000 Keystone Community Program grant allowed the city to hire Bill Fontana, the strategic initiatives director, and Mary Tate, field service coordinator, for the Pennsylvania Downtown Center, to work with Sharon officials, residents and business owners over the next several months to help the city develop a vision, action strategy and plan for a potential business improvement district in the city. Thursday’s meeting marked the second of four scheduled information and brainstorming sessions.
PDC, established in 1987, is a statewide nonprofit agency that provides outreach, technical assistance and educational services to help communities revitalize their central business districts and surrounding neighborhoods. Fontana said PDC has worked with hundreds of communities across Pennsylvania over the years, as well as municipalities in New Jersey and West Virginia.
“Everyone’s input is valued,” Phillips said. “We really want to encourage public participation because our guests from the Pa. Downtown Center are collecting your thoughts. They really are figuring out how we can have this vision using your feedback.”
Fontana reviewed the data and survey results from the first strategic meeting, including current descriptions of the city, how people hope the city will be viewed in the future, local values and metrics of downtown that need to change for the better in the future.
“We want know what economic generators are in place to move downtown Sharon forward in the future,” Fontana said. “And we want to understand the market realities that we are dealing with so we have a better chance to make sure that vision can become a reality.”
Fontana said he will ultimately help participants develop a five-year action strategy that supports that vision statement.
“When this vision statement is completed, part of what we’re going to do is attempt to create a new non-profit development entity for the city of Sharon,” Fontana said. “We hope the city will adopt this, that the Chamber of Commerce adopts this. We hope that some of the other critical organizations in town will acknowledge the importance of it.”
Fontana asked participants for words or phrases that participants would use to describe the future Sharon they would like to see.
Participants called out: destination, busy, hip and cool, thriving, college town, younger, eclectic, veteran friendly, economically diverse, healthy, relevant and entrepreneurial. Every participant was asked to mark the words with dots according to their importance at the end of their meeting.
At the next meeting, Fontana said he will bring back the first draft of the vision statement.
“That vision statement will then get transposed into a five-year action strategy and it will be very specific,” Fontana said. “It will get into a whole host of topics on physical improvements and business development and promotion and marketing. We’ll address all of those things in very specific actions that need to take place.”
Phillips said she thought the meeting was really valuable.
“I think future conversations are going to start to pull out if we have the money or can we find the money to get us from what we are versus what we want to be,” Phillips said. “It was really cool to see people’s opinions. It was very interesting.”
Follow Melissa Klaric on Twitter and Facebook @HeraldKlaric, email: firstname.lastname@example.org