Economic development and community leaders in Reading hope that the city’s new mayor will continue some of the initiatives by outgoing Mayor Vaughn Spencer, who lost Tuesday’s Democratic primary.
The new mayor will have the task of keeping momentum for a city that once was referred to as the poorest in Pennsylvania. A Main Street funding program and the collaboration of five authorities to streamline efforts to lure developers to the city are two of the initiatives that leaders hope will continue when a new mayor takes office in January.
Meanwhile, a not-so-favorable initiative by Spencer to invoke project labor agreements, requiring union workers on projects, hopefully will be eliminated or reworked, some leaders said.
Spencer lost the primary to Wally Scott, former Reading district judge. In November’s election, Scott will face Jim McHale, a longtime Reading real estate investor who ran unopposed in the Republican primary.
Jon Scott, president and CEO of Greater Reading Economic Partnership, an economic development corporation, said he is hopeful that the new mayor will not invoke project labor agreements, which Scott called not favorable to developers.
“Spencer was hugely in favor of them [PLAs],” Scott said. “He wouldn’t give it up.”
Mandating that unionized labor be hired for projects would mean that 80-85 percent of local workers would not be able to work on local projects, Scott said.
The most important things that Scott said he hopes the new mayor focuses on are “safety and cleanliness, surrounded by an envelope of keeping and bringing jobs to the county [Berks].”
At a spring 2013 economic summit organized by Spencer, the directors of the Reading Housing Authority, Reading Downtown Improvement District, Reading Parking Authority, Reading Redevelopment Authority and Reading Area Water Authority came together to create ReDesign Reading to devise new approaches to economic development.
This was in an effort to make it easier and more attractive for developers to set up shop in Reading.
“I would hope that Brian’s work continues,” Scott said of ReDesign Reading’s executive director Brian Kelly. “He has done some positive things to create quality of life and quality of space.”
Obtaining a Keystone Community/Main Street designation in late 2013 was a springboard for the city in 2014 – making state funding more readily available for redevelopment to the downtown.
Scott also said the Main Street designation is important to the downtown, and keeping economic development going will help Reading to qualify again for the designation when it is time to reapply.
“I am certainly optimistic for the city of Reading with either of the candidates,” Scott said.
Jack Gulati, longtime Reading entrepreneur and owner of the Reading Royals professional hockey team, plays an integral role in the revitalization of the city’s downtown, particularly as an investor in the Doubletree Hilton in Reading, set to open in the fall.
“I think they both have a good intent” Gulati said this morning of Scott and McHale. “I think either one of them can do a good job.”
Gulati said he agrees with Scott that development projects need to continue in order to keep a Main Street designation.
“The city has made considerable progress in revitalizing the downtown,” Gulati said. “I hope the new mayor will continue that. We must remember that the [new] mayor will be well served if he has some business backing from community leaders to revitalize downtown Reading and the city.”