Reading to host statewide downtown improvement conference

Reading Eagle | Written by David Mekeel

Standing inside the restored Franklin Street Station on Tuesday morning, Berks County Commissioner Christian Y. Leinbach marveled at the space.

“I’m blown away by what’s here today,” he said.

Across the Schuylkill River, Leinbach said, West Reading is a shining example of a downtown reborn. Near his home, he said, downtown Hamburg is rocking and rolling with change.

In the eastern part of the county, Boyertown is growing and thriving, he added.

All around Berks, Main Streets and downtown business districts are blossoming.

“This is what we’re celebrating,” Leinbach said. “Revitalization of communities that have hundreds of years of history.”

And that’s what makes Reading the perfect place to play host to the 2020 Pennsylvania Downtown Center
statewide conference. Officials from the Pennsylvania Downtown Center, along with a host of local officials, gathered Tuesday morning to announce that the conference will be held in Reading on June 7-10.

The event will be centered around the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel, which will host an assortment of educational sessions led by national and state experts, said Julie Fitzpatrick, Pennsylvania Downtown Center executive director. It will also include a number of field trips, with participants getting a chance to check out Hamburg, Boyertown and West Reading.

“We believe the host community has the opportunity to be a laboratory,” she said.

The theme of the conference is “Design: Beyond the Structures.” Fitzpatrick said it will focus on planning
for the future, on creating spaces that fit how people live and move.

Revitalizing a downtown is about more than just buildings, she said, encompassing things like streets, sidewalks, green spaces and even public art.

The conference is expected to draw about 200 guests, and will include the annual Townie Awards gala, where Pennsylvania communities are recognized for developing and implementing outstanding programs and events that contribute to the Pennsylvania Downtown Center’s mission.

Local officials at Tuesday’s announcement event spoke with pride about Reading and Berks being chosen as host.

City Councilwoman Lucine Sihelnik said she felt the Franklin Street Station, which now houses the Saucony Creek Brewpub, was an apt spot to make the announcement.

“I can’t think of a better place that represents community revitalization,” she said of the 1930s train station
that was renovated in 2013.

The Franklin Street Station project showed how communities can design and innovate for the future, while keeping a hold on the past, she said. It represents creative place making, the type that is needed as the city moves forward with its plans for reinvention.

Commissioner Kevin S. Barnhardt said those who attend the conference will marvel at the improvements communities across Berks have made, including downtown Reading.

“There’s so much potential in Reading,” he said, saying places such as the Franklin Street Station are like building blocks.

Tom Gombar, state Sen. Judy Schwank’s district office director, said the conference is a chance for Berks to show off.

“This is a great thing; we’re doing great things here,” he said. “Let’s all make Reading the showplace of Pennsylvania.”

Founded in 1987, the Pennsylvania Downtown Center aims to build and support the capacity of local nonprofit organizations, municipalities and individuals to enhance the overall well-being and sustainability of Pennsylvania’s communities.

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