Board eyes plan input from businesses

JOHNSTOWN – City Planning Board members say they’ll tap downtown building owners and past and present business owners for ideas and input as they evaluate the role and potential of downtown as part of a review of the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

The plan, which was adopted in 2008 and must by law be reviewed every five years, charges the Planning Board with developing a strategy for the central business district, which is downtown.

Planning Board members say the downtown area remains attractive for businesses, with low rents, ample parking, history, culture and a growing number of residents, but questions about the downtown identity remain.

“The question I would have for the business community is what kinds of businesses does the business community see as viable in the commercial core?” Planning Board member Lori Salamack asked at Tuesday’s meeting.

Johnstown’s downtown evolution has now resulted in a strong service economy, Salamack said, noting the area’s many banks, tax preparers and medical-service companies that moved in over the last few decades as retail businesses relocated to the Route 30A arterial, seeking more visibility, flexible building sites and, in the case of banks and quick-service restaurants, the ability to attract drive-in customers.

“I think that’s a phenomenon were not going to be able to fight. We have to adapt to it,” board Chairman Peter Smith said. “As I have said, businesses have to reinvent themselves when Walmart comes to town.”

Smith said commercial development along the arterial has forced the board to consider whether the comprehensive plan should push a downtown whose retail tenants are mostly “boutiquey” – small, private businesses relying on walk-in traffic. He said the city has positioned itself to be attractive to those businesses, but there is still potential for different kinds of businesses.

“Are there opportunities for retailing and maybe more restaurant life?” Salamack asked. “Is there potential where we need to go out and attract those businesses? Or are the circumstances just such that those businesses won’t thrive there?”

Board member Fredrick Franko proposed reaching out to the business community at the January Planning Board member. Board members agreed to extend invitations not just to downtown business owners but also the owners of downtown buildings, business owners in other parts of the city and past business owners, as well as others with an interest in the success of downtown.

“I think this is a fact-finding mission. I’m not sure we’re in a position to write anything off,” he said.

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