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Landmark Towns:
Region extends from Morrisville to New Hope

by Jodi Spiegel Arthur

A Delaware and Lehigh Heritage Corridor sign was unveiled in
New Hope on National Trails Day June 7. From left are Geri Delevich,
borough council member; Donna Boone, Landmark Town manager;
DeeDee Bowman, member of the Landmark Town committee;
Ranger Sarah Bellois of the state Department of Conservation and
Natural Resources; and Elissa Marsden Thorne, vice president of the
heritage programs for the D&H National Heritage Corridor Commission.

Donna Boone is both patient and hopeful.

The coordinator of a new downtown revitalization effort involving New Hope, Yardley, Bristol and Morrisville anticipates vast improvements in all four boroughs. However, she doesn’t expect those changes to materialize overnight.

“I really look for great things to happen in each of these boroughs,” the Regional Main Street Coordinator for Landmark Towns of Bucks County said. “But there’s no quick fix; there’s no Band-Aid. It’s an ongoing process.”

The Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor is guiding the project, which is in the early stages of a five-year strategic plan. The voluntary endeavor is designed to help small towns like the four boroughs that line the Delaware River corridor “breathe renewed economic life into their business districts, while preserving and enhancing the industrial and cultural heritage they share,” according to the Heritage Corridor web site.

Boone was hired in March 2008to help make that happen. Put simply, she said, her task is to encourage economic development and revitalization on a regional basis and to focus on increasing heritage tourism. That includes promoting a positive image of the towns and encouraging people to live, work and play in them.

She says it’s imperative that all four towns work together toward the same goal and that all of the stakeholders in each of the towns – the residents, business owners, property owners and governments – be a part of it. Toward that end, volunteers from each of the boroughs are serving together on revitalization planning committees focused on design, economic restructuring, promotion and organization.

“It’s definitely a cooperative effort,” Boone said.

It also pairs well with an attempt by the Heritage Corridor to create a National Scenic Byway from Wilkes Barre to Bristol Borough. The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration recognizes roads having outstanding scenic, historic, cultural, natural, recreational and archaeological qualities as National Scenic Byways, All-American Roads or America’s Byways.

New Hope Borough Manager John Burke said the hope is that the Landmark Towns regional marketing effort will inspire people who ordinarily would visit only one of the towns to go experience the others as well, possibly remaining in the area for extended stays.

The effort will include the creation of special events, like the National Trails Day event held in three of the four towns in June, to attract visitors to the four towns. It also will include building façade improvements, garden beautification, historic preservation and economic help in the form of new business recruitment, business retention services, classes on building inventory management and help finding low interest loans.

A property inventory will include photographs of each parcel, the names of the property and business owners and a listing of the amenities on each site. The information will be used to put together sell sheets to share with local Realtors, bankers and governments to help recruit additional businesses, Boone said.

One type of business, which Boone says is sorely needed, is more bed and breakfast lodging. Although New Hope has several bed and breakfast inns, not all of the boroughs have similar accommodations. “We’re going to try to entice people to open a bed and breakfast,” she said, possibly on the upper floors of one of the now vacant or partially vacant buildings in one of the boroughs.

Another idea under consideration is creating a dining and theater tour package to take advantage of the fact that each of the towns has a theater. Some are professional theaters, such as the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope and the Bristol Riverside Theater in Bristol, and the others are community theaters.

“The arts are a huge draw,” Boone said. “Each town has a strong commitment to history and the arts, and to heritage tourism.”

Last summer Burke said New Hope, which he called an “arts town,” was seeking state grants through the Landmark Towns program to renovate New Hope Arts Inc., a new arts center at Stockton and West Bridge streets. The aim was to make the center, located on the second floor of the building, handicap accessible and modernize the bathrooms. Another possible use for grant money is to add a restaurant in the building, which has stores on the ground floor.

New Hope Arts Center is already staging art shows and entertainment at the Arts Café.

The Landmark Towns project was awarded a $100,000 grant to conduct a study to determine what type of signage is needed to attract visitors to the four boroughs, and the organization has worked in 2008 to obtain matching grants for building façade improvements.

“Within the next year, we expect to see some physical changes happening,” Boone said last summer. “We just don’t know what they are yet.”

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