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ON THE CUSP OF A REBIRTHPottsville’s downtown has momentum, seeks to seize the moment

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PHOTO/BRIAN PEDERSEN
Nearly 10 new businesses have opened up in downtown Pottsville over the past two years, including this specialty artisan bakery, at left.
PHOTO/BRIAN PEDERSEN Nearly 10 new businesses have opened up in downtown Pottsville over the past two years, including this specialty artisan bakery, at left.

Though coal may once have been the dominant industry in Pottsville, the city offers potential for economic growth by focusing on today’s growing business segments of tourism, recreation and hospitality.

These are a few of the business sectors fueling a joint effort to build an economic rebirth in downtown Pottsville, with several groups teaming up on the initiative.

By analyzing the city’s assets, which include an iconic brewery, affordable commercial rents and historic architecture, officials say they can create a vision that will enable the city to capitalize on its strengths and build a sustainable plan for viable, economic growth.

“They have great history, they do have Yuengling brewery, which has committed to staying in Pottsville. They have great architecture. They have a great community of people that want to make this work. There’s some people that really want to see change,” said Patti Guttenplan, project planner for Bergmann Associates. “I think those are some of the strengths that they have going for them.”

The city and its downtown have highly visible properties that are blighted and in need of upgrades. Its commercial district shows lack of activity and vibrancy.

Though it has some new businesses in its downtown, the city clearly needs investment to create an atmosphere that’s lively and attractive to visitors and entrepreneurs.

Bergmann Associates, a national architecture, engineering and planning firm with an office in Conshohocken, is partnering with Eastwick Solutions, a Doylestown-based marketing firm, to create a study that would outline a vision for the revitalization of the downtown.

City officials, business leaders and an economic development group also are part of the redevelopment effort.

For the people who live and work in Pottsville, it represents an opportunity for positive growth as cities increasingly become popular destinations to live, work and play.

STARTING TO REBOUND

One local business owner, Savas Logothetides, sees the start of that growth in Pottsville. He owns and operates two downtown restaurants and is executive director of the Pottsville Area Development Corp. and vice president of the Pottsville Business Association.

In 2016, he opened Wheel Restaurant, a grilled cheese sandwich-themed restaurant. Last month, he opened The Crimson House, an upscale restaurant focused on appetizers.

Both establishments have been doing well, he said.

“I capitalized on the opportunity of having low-cost buildings in Pottsville,” Logothetides said. “We need to love ourselves as much as people outside of Pottsville love us. That includes upgrades to our downtown. We also need risk takers – people to make bold decisions. We have the momentum here, we just need to capitalize on it.”

PRIVATELY FUNDED STUDY

Logothetides said business owners and the city needed a plan to revitalize Pottsville, which is why it hired Bergmann and Eastwick.

The study, which cost about $28,000, was privately funded and includes an inventory land use analysis of downtown assets and infrastructure, interviews with business leaders and research into downtown and county tourism, Guttenplan said.

Though the study is in progress, her firm has completed some analysis of downtown sites and online and print surveys that were sent to the community and targeted to businesses, Guttenplan said.

RECOMMENDATIONS ON THE WAY

All of the information will be gathered to create a study, which Guttenplan said would result in recommendations that should be delivered by February.

Once that’s complete, Pottsville will be able to apply for grants to move forward with implementing the strategies in the study and creating a vision for revitalization, a multiyear process including public meetings and city approvals.

The potential need for more parking, a second hotel, and commercial space connected to the city’s parking garage are a few of the responses so far.

BREWING UP BUSINESS

Yuengling brings in about 75,000 visitors every year to tour the brewery, but a good number of them don’t make it into the downtown to visit, which is a few blocks away, Guttenplan said.

Since Guttenplan’s firm started the study this year, Pottsville has seen new businesses open, including restaurants, and real estate developers are renovating properties.

The business community has been active, as well, as 45 businesses financed the hiring of Bergmann and Eastwick. Last year, the Pottsville Business Association had 160 members, Logothetides added.

NEW PARKING DECK

Dick Yuengling, owner of the brewery, gave $2.8 million to help the city build a new parking deck, Logothetides said.

The older deck has to be torn down and a new one needs to be built to meet the city’s parking needs. The project could begin next year, he said.

The city has also been holding landlords accountable for filling vacant buildings, too, he said.

“We’ve had a lot of investors walk through buildings,” Logothetides said. “The word is out there, people are saying, should I get in on this?”

HIGHLIGHTING TOURISM, CULTURE

Kim Stever, owner of Eastwick Solutions, is completing a tourism analysis.

Part of that involves identifying the different types of culture that can be offered in the city, such as mining, history, brewing and outdoor recreation, Stever said.

Ideally, she would like visitors, including business travelers, to stay longer in Pottsville.

“When they have time on their hands and money in their pocket, we want to make sure there are places for them to shop,” Stever said.

NEW HOTEL

Through her analysis so far, Stever sees the need for a second hotel downtown. A new hotel, preferably with a full-service restaurant, conference rooms and a ballroom, would benefit tourists.

The Yuengling brewery has a lot of visitors from outside the area, but they are being housed outside Pottsville, she said.

A quality, full-service hotel is one opportunity that Pottsville needs, agreed Logothetides.

“There’s a great surge of entrepreneurs in Pottsville,” Stever said. “There’s a couple of new restaurants that have come in. I really think Pottsville has great potential. They have a great story to tell; we just have to tell it.”

OPPORTUNITIES

State Rep. Mike Tobash owns an insurance agency in Pottsville’s downtown. He also sees a renewed sense of growth beginning to occur.

“We want to make sure we keep people here,” he said. “People are looking for cool places to live. We have some world-class manufacturing here, including Yuengling. A lot of great things are going on here.”

With the recent closure of the Schuylkill Mall in nearby Frackville, opportunities also exist to attract businesses that were in the mall to the downtown, Tobash added.

COMMERCIAL GROWTH

Steve Nelson, director of planning and government relations for Eastwick Solutions, is focusing on the downtown market, analyzing the sites to develop a vision.

“I’m looking at the mix of uses downtown. I’m interviewing commercial real estate developers, looking at vacancies,” Nelson said. “… I’m interviewing key stakeholders.”

He plans to take that data, combine it with what Stever gathers and get the public response.

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