Downtown RevitalizationPlan

This rendering by Derck & Edson shows possible improvements that could be made along North Earl Street to help downtown Shippensburg.



Groups of local officials, business owners and volunteers striving to breathe new life into downtown Shippensburg have been working tirelessly over the past year to help representatives from Derck & Edson develop a Downtown Revitalization and Connectivity Plan.

Mark Evans, a planner and architect with Derck & Edson, presented Shippensburg Borough Council with a 32-page report of findings compiled over the last year in efforts to propel this historic town into the future.

“We are experts in downtown revitalization,” he noted before discussing the plan. “We work across the state, and have been working with a committee of 16 of your peers, economic development specialists, borough and township representatives, university representatives and the chamber of commerce to develop this plan.”

Evans said the plan first builds on Shippensburg’s strengths, such as its historic architecture, its growing business community and its existing assets like the Cumberland Valley Rail-Trail, Shippensburg University and its recreational destinations.

“You have a lot of things you should be proud of,” he noted. “This plan is a look at things to invest in fresh ideas. This will become a roadmap for municipal action. It’s not just about spending public monies, but making sure that private-sector investors know where to spend their money to make the plan viable. Hopefully, you use this plan as the blueprint for all of you to get involved.”

A major piece of the puzzle will be bringing a downtown manager on board that specifically focuses on economic development, business recruitment and securing grants. Facade improvement grants, beautification programs and partnerships between the borough, Shippensburg University and Shippensburg Township are also key factors into successfully implementing the plan.

Evans said the plan adds different factors to transform downtown into a more vibrant commercial district that is “livable, walkable, green and safe.”

Another large piece of the pie is improving connectivity to downtown from surrounding neighborhoods, plans that are already in the works are the extension of the Cumberland Valley Rail-Trail and grants have been received to add bicycle improvements along Earl Street. Evans suggested adding a bike share program between the borough, university and township to draw more foot traffic to King Street, especially from university students.

The revitalization plan will help stakeholders band together to draw a more diverse business base that meets the needs of the community. For example, a retail outlet that sells hiking and sporting equipment for the area’s rich recreational opportunities.

Evans noted that surveyed focus groups show that the majority of the money our residents spend is being spent outside of town in surrounding communities like Chambersburg and Carlisle, and in shopping centers.

“Our world has changed economically,” he said. “All of the major businesses we typically patronize are no longer located in the center of town. We need to evolve with the changing needs of the community. You have the spending dollars to add everything on this list. You could add a shoe store, an appliance store, a furniture store and a number of different options.”

He added Shippensburg needs ongoing support for downtown businesses to create that vibrant community and bring it back to some of its former glory. 

Evans noted some of the challenges Shippensburg currently faces is filling holes of empty storefronts, the loss of traditional anchors downtown, creating a central gathering place for the community and providing incentives for university students to want to visit downtown.

Some suggestions for improvement include adding more artwork and sculptures downtown, ornamental fencing, more flowers and greenways and development of the commercial district along North Earl Street. One design example he showed was adding more lighting, a brick wall, artwork and flowers to the front of the parking lot in the first block of North Earl off of King Street.

He added improvements to Earl Street will also help to draw some of the Rail-Trail visitors to King Street from the Shippensburg Station.

“There are 112,000 visitors a year to the Rail-Trail, and most of them are not traveling the short distance into town. We need to close that gap. There’s some nice architecture on Earl Street, but the sidewalks aren’t wide and it isn’t a place where you would ride a bicycle,” he said.

Enhancing and/or redeveloping municipal land is another suggestion. Evans said the police station and borough hall could be combined, or apartments could be added near Branch Creek Place. Updating 30-year-old zoning ordinances will also help in implementing the plan.

“None of these things are going to happen overnight. But the borough has a lot of land, and you need to figure out the best way to leverage that land,” he added.

Beautification and capital improvement programs for greenspace, signage, artwork and directories are crucial to drawing more people to downtown.

“When people see blocks that look like someone doesn’t care, they’re more than likely going to turn around and leave. The beautification can make or break if a person is going to stay,” he advised.

Adding an outdoor meeting space to hold events and get-togethers, a place to host outdoor movie nights and other programs promoting recreational tourism will also be helpful.

“This is the first step of the implementation plan. The next challenge is getting organized and making sure people are involved,” he said. “Thanks to the steering committee and volunteers, we’ve suggested forming a downtown beautification committee, a business and development committee and the Middle Spring Greenway Alliance. The committees should present their progress to council once a month. These are things that you, with the right organizations, municipal partners, private partners, chambers of commerce, DOIT, etc., can come together around this plan. This can become your roadmap if you embrace it and come around it.”

Evans said they are excited about the plan and assured those involved that they are not alone in the process.

“We are glad to help you as you move forward,” he noted. “There are lots of other communities that have done this.”

After his presentation, an audience member asked Evans what plans he has seen implemented that have transformed another town into a vibrant community. Evans gave the example of Lititz. He said with the addition of a full-time downtown manager, volunteers and committee members, they have been actively recruiting businesses. However, he noted the borough had to be an active partner in business recruitment and retention.

“They had to be willing to provide parking solutions,” he said. “The local government is responsible for making them realize how realistic their investments are.”

He also said Lititz has created a central space in town that also supports the surrounding businesses.

“You have to figure out where you want to invest your time and dollars. That’s part of what brings people to a downtown area,” he said.

Scott Brown, president of the Shippensburg Area Chamber of Commerce, said he is excited about what this plan will bring to Shippensburg, and his committee is determined to move forward.

“We’re not going to be in the major leagues overnight, but we are already trying to figure out ways to fund the manager position, and we are about halfway to our goal,” he said. “It’s been very well received, and I think this will bring value to our community.”

The 32-page report will be available for download on the borough’s website. A copy will also be available for public view in the library. 

“We have had people like you in the audience and a lot of businesses sitting on these committees. The interest is still here and it has not died,” Mayor Kathy Coy said. “Besides the library and the trails, I think there are a lot of things brewing. I think within the next year, five years, 10 years, we are going to see a lot of things happening.”

Council President Bruce Hockersmith said, “I have about 40 years in local government, and I have seen more growth and caring about the community in this past year than in the 39 previous years. I have been saying for months now, Shippensburg is the heart of the Cumberland Valley. From the Maryland border to the Susquehanna, we were known as the Hub City. Now is the time for us to move forward. I want our beat to be heard over the entire region, that Shippensburg is on the move.”

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