Like hundreds of small towns nationwide, Myerstown merchants have endured a slow decline for decades, first at the hands of malls, more recently due to the explosion of online shopping.
But the borough is no longer content to sit back and allow the steady erosion of Main Avenue’s once robust business district to continue.
At its March 12 meeting, Myerstown’s borough council approved the creation of the Myerstown Vitality Partnership, commonly referred to as “the MVP,” a public-private organization focused on economic revitalization and new business development in the borough.
“Markets by themselves don’t create a downtown nowadays,” says Borough Manager Michael McKenna.
Instead, McKenna says the borough is determined to enlist the help of local businesses and state government to attract and develop more businesses, help those owners who have loyally remained in Myerstown, and to “engage in meaningful placemaking.”
McKenna and Communication and Economic Development Development Officer Steffan Bomberger agree that Myerstown’s location at the crossroads of Routes 422 and 501 is a big plus, allowing quick commutes and short delivery routes from Lebanon, Lancaster, and Berks Counties.
The MVP has three major goals, two of which will make good use of the existing Myerstown Community Center, once the borough’s elementary school. A small business resource center for startups and non-profits will be located there, and unused space will be offered for lease to new and existing businesses.
In keeping with the public-private partnership, the borough hopes that the MVP will attract a developer to make the necessary renovations to the Community Center’s now vacant second floor.
The MVP’s third goal will be applying to Pennsylvania’s Keystone Communities Program for a “Keystone Main Street” designation. If approved, this could lead to grant money and expert assistance to make physical improvements, such as street beautification and upgrading building facades.
The MVP’s roots can be traced to the 2012 revamping of Myerstown’s comprehensive plan (PDF), and the borough’s 2013 decision to participate in the state’s Early Intervention Program, which allowed it to work with an economic consultant.
Borough Manager McKenna hopes to have the Main Street application submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development by August 31, 2019.
Lebanon City is currently the only community in the county to have a Keystone Main Street designation.
How will all of this be paid for? Unlike Lebanon’s decision to create a Business Improvement District and assess mandatory financial contributions against businesses within its boundaries, Myerstown will ask for purely voluntary contributions from local businesses, hoping to eventually divide the cost, roughly 40% to the borough and 60% to volunteer businesses.
A portion of the borough’s annual budget has long been designated for economic development, with about $8,000 remaining for 2019. McKenna says no tax increases are anticipated.
The announcement has been made, now the hard works starts.
Full Disclosure: The author formerly practiced law at Henry & Beaver in Lebanon, which is the law firm that represents Myerstown Borough. The borough’s work was handled by other attorneys and the author recalls only being involved with borough affairs once five years ago while covering a Zoning Board meeting for a partner on vacation.