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Berks, city leaders collaborate, pledge $1.7M toward Reading revitalization

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Several organizations and the city have pledged $1.7 million to help boost revitalization projects in downtown Reading.

The funding includes $795,000 in grants from the Berks County Community Foundation, $400,000 from the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance, $330,000 from the city and $210,000 from the Berks Alliance.

The money will be spread out over five years in concert with a new strategic plan developed by Aaron Gantz, executive director of Downtown Revitalization at the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance.

The plan has three major strategies:

• Traditional economic development.

• Attracting and retaining new investment and businesses.

• Improving and maintaining a positive public perception of downtown Reading.

Kevin K. Murphy, president of the Berks County Community Foundation, said its $795,000 grant was “contingent upon city officials and other stakeholders creating and supporting a vision for downtown Reading that capitalizes on the momentum we’ve seen in recent years to revitalize downtown.”

The foundation’s grant includes continued funding of the annual Reading Fire + Ice Fest, the Downtown Alive free outdoor concert series, the Penn Street Market and other efforts. Since 2014, the foundation has awarded more than $725,000 to support the festival, concert series, farmers market and public arts programming in Reading.

The money, through the foundation’s Hawley and Myrtle Quier Fund, will also help support Gantz in her new role leading Downtown Revitalization.

Organization and city officials signed a letter of support, which was recently delivered to the foundation.

“We are happy to see so much interest in Reading,” Reading Mayor Wally Scott said in a statement. “We always welcome those who want to work with the administration for positive change.”

The city has pledged $330,000 toward revitalization efforts outlined in the strategic plan.

John P. Weidenhammer, chair of the Berks Alliance, which pledged more than $210,000, said it is focused on the core of Reading, particularly the 400 and 500 blocks of Penn Street.

The alliance is a recently formed nonprofit coalition of business and education leaders dedicated to improving the quality of life in Berks County.

“Advocacy for Greater Reading is one of our most important contributions while we work on ensuring that the needs of our community are well understood in Harrisburg and Washington,” Weidenhammer said.

“During 2018, we will hold a series of community conversations to provide awareness of the strategies and tactics that other areas have used to achieve change.”

Charles Broad, executive director of the Reading Downtown Improvement District, a key player in the revitalization, said the organization “is extremely grateful to Berks County Community Foundation for its ongoing financial support of the Downtown Alive concert series and Reading Fire + Ice Fest, which the district has been instrumental in staging.

“We look forward to working with the other entities involved in the five-year strategic plan to bring even more vitality and economic growth to the core of the city,” he said.

The new funding agreement requires GRCA to submit reports assuring the foundation the goals in the revitalization plan are being met.

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