Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Unexpected View From the Bus

Photos by Evan Brandt
Borough and Montgomery County officials and guests, head for the bus that took them on a tour of Pottstown Wednesday.

Obviously, the bus tour undertaken by the Montgomery County Planning Commission and company was not something I needed to go on for informational purposes.

There were few things highlighted on the tour that I haven't written about in the 19 years I have been covering Pottstown for The Mercury.

Just as obviously, I was there to report on the impression of the people on the tour, including several planning commission members who were not -- shall we say "familiar?" -- with Pottstown.

But I did discover that my perspective shifted nonetheless.

It was a cumulative thing.

Sure, I know about the process that converted a former industrial PECO building in Riverfront Park into the home of both the Schuylkill River Heritage Area and the new sustainability and innovation center of Montgomery County Community College's West Campus, shown in the above photo.

And yes, I know about the conversion of the former Mrs. Smith's Pies complex into market rate
The adaptive re-use of the old Fecera's building into apartments for
artists and a new home for ArtFusion 19464, as seen from the bus.
housing and -- coming soon -- a mixed use office and retail complex at the southern gateway to Pottstown.

The multi-modal train station off Keim Street in the middle of the old Bethlehem Steel complex? Yup.

The businesses which have taken over some of those buildings, including one that runs almost entirely on solar power? Yes.

I would have to be blind to have missed the re-construction of the Route 422 Armand Hammer Boulevard intersection and the four new bridges over the Schuylkill River.

The Walk/Bike Pottstown trails planned for the borough; the well-designed Wawa and McDonald's in the east end; the conversion of the Jefferson School into affordable senior apartments; Hobart's Run efforts around The Hill School; the conversion of the old Facera's warehouse into apartments for artists and the new home of ArtFusion 19464 ongoing now -- I've reported on them all.

The slow-but-steady improvements to Memorial Park, its spray park, BMX and skateboard parks, the "Bark Park" for dogs and the trails that will connect all that to the Schulkill River Trail and parks upstream on the Manatawny and in Upper Pottsgrove, all are improvements worth lauding.

Pottsgrove Manor, the Manatawny Green mini-golf and the almost-but-never-quite-finished Carousel
The Colebrookdale Railroad's ever-informative Nathaniel Guest
explains the railroad's plans for a new station in Memorial Park.
at Pottstown and, of course, the Colebrookdale Railroad's "Secret Valley Line" and its lovingly restored vintage rail cars -- all things to be applauded over the years.

The attraction of Sly Fox Brewery (a personal favorite) and Manatanwy Stillworks (also a personal favorite); upgrades and improvements at Pottstown Municipal Airport; two-steps-forward-one-step back improvements on High Street have all been closely watched.

There is the tree park at Beech and Charlotte, the street trees (sorry, I'm a fan), the three community gardens with another coming at Barth Elementary School -- all good things

I've had a seat by the fountain in Smith Family Plaza dozens of times, had a beer (or three) at The Brick House; eaten in Grumpy's and Lily's Grill and even managed to scrounge up enough money to see a show at Steel River Playhouse.

Reporting on these things during the day-in day-out hurly burly of daily news reporting can give a close-in up-close perspective.

But on the bus, explaining details to visitors and seeing the sum total of these developments all at once, all at the same time, gave me pause enough to say that is no small record of accomplishment over the years.

Would we like more? Sure.

You can get a free bike to ride around Pottstown. How cool is that?
Was all of it handled with the greatest of foresight and efficiency? Not always, but close enough often enough. (After all, if you saw how efficiently we handled some things at The Mercury, you might say "who are you to point fingers pal?)

Have we lost a few battles in Pottstown? No question.

But we haven't given up yet.

People are quick to get frustrated with the pace of these improvements and just as quick to criticize and lament the lost glory of the old days, when everyone had jobs and there was enough money in town to sustain a well-balanced and even thriving borough.

But times and circumstances have changed, more because of things out of our control than in our control, and the best we can do is try to react and, when possible, predict those changes and make smart adjustments to take advantage of the ones we can.

There has been no small amount of that over the years.

So take a moment to pause, take a breath and look around and say "we haven't been sitting on our heels. We're still in there swinging and, when you look at it all, we have some things to be proud of."

OK, enough of that, now back to making progress.

Here are the Tweets that helped fuel this momentary revelation:

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