We’re proud to provide a Voters’ Guide in this week’s paper. This Voters' Guide lists candidates in the six contested local races in the May 21 primary election – for Middletown Borough Council, Middletown mayor, Londonderry Twp. supervisor and Royalton Borough Council's first ward seat – and provides their answers to questions posed by the Press And Journal.
This Guide's sole purpose is to help voters cast an informed vote when they go to the polls. Just to let you know, questionnaires were sent to ALL candidates in contested races.
Our thanks and respect to the candidates who responded. Our question to those candidates who declined – why?
Last week, I was encouraged by spirited talk offered by a group of businesspeople gathered to get a better understanding of the borough's proposal for downtown Middletown's rehab. It was the second meeting for the informal group. The first ended with a call for an official from the borough to attend a second meeting to “clear the air” of innuendos, misconceptions and previous confrontations.
Borough Council President Chris McNamara accepted the group's invitation and, at the April 29 meeting, repeatedly maintained that the borough's plan for a downtown redo was merely “conceptual.” However, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that at the January 2013 unveiling of Dewberry Associate's redevelopment plans, borough manager Tim Konek told those in attendance that "things are going to happen fast."
The “going to happen fast” statement may sound familiar to many people. The borough’s Fall 2012 newsletter also stated “Downtown streetscape improvements, including new sidewalks, curbing … will likely get underway in the Spring.” But, at last week’s meeting, Mr. McNamara asserted the outline for redevelopment was always in the hands of the businesspeople and not the borough. He pledged “there is no plan” for the project. So, is Mr. McNamara's statement at the April meeting a contradiction or a change in plans?
Interesting that Mr. McNamara repeatedly pointed the removal of all the downtown shade trees last November at public works director Ken Klinepeter and stated it was necessary because of work to begin on aging sewer and water lines beneath Union Street. However, an in-depth analysis of existing water and sewer lines, which we were told is the most essential piece of the puzzle in the downtown’s redevelopment, didn't actually begin until April of this year and proposals won't be available for another two to three months. Actual work on the streets isn't projected to begin until the end of the summer. Seems like that would have been ample time to inform residents and property owners of plans to radically change the downtown streetscape.
The impending results of that water/sewer analysis will determine exactly where and for how long Union Street will be closed to traffic – understandably a monumental concern for downtown businesses. One businessman in attendance pointedly stated he’s already in something akin to lock-down mode in preparing for the worst. Another businessman quipped he’ll take a long vacation if and when the project sets sail. Unfortunately for most of businesses, that is not an option.
While Mr. McNamara empowered the businesses’ representatives to dream the dream and come up with their own revitalization plan – something the borough can then take to its newly-constituted redevelopment authority and Dewberry Associates – details about financing the projects, specific timelines, etc., were vague.
In light of the influence Dewberry Associates' recommendations has on the entire project, I asked Mr. McNamara how the borough came to choose that firm. He handed that question over to Borough Manager Tim Konek who extolled the virtues of Dewberry. In my humble opinion, any statements Mr. Konek made about the pluses of Dewberry (which I'm not disputing here) should have been prefaced with his acknowledgement that the business had been his employer.
While there was great deal of enthusiasm amid the talk, one could still sense suspicion and uncertainty. Perhaps this skepticism prompted the call to Mr. McNamara that we business people do not want any more surprises or back channel rumors. In short: Openly communicate with us so we can all move in a positive direction. Support for the business community is in the best interest of our town.
At the end of the hour-long meeting, the group decided to gather again on Monday, May 13 for what is expected to be a roll-up-your-sleeves planning session – a start to provide the borough with what it had asked for.
I would love to see all the downtown businesses at the next meeting. It would go a long way in showing we're serious about improving our town and rightfully demanding council's respect. Come to think of it, I can’t see why other businesses throughout town wouldn’t want to attend as well. Stay tuned.
Speaking of business, let me just add we’re putting the wraps on our special Kuppy’s Cruise-In publication. The Cruise-In is Thursday, May 23 in downtown Middletown.
This popular event's program and sponsors will be published in our May 15 edition. It’s a great opportunity for businesses who want to support the event – and be seen by thousands of event-goers.