SHAMOKIN — Shamokin’s Downtown Revitalization Group met Thursday evening at Antioch Place with AOAA and community business leaders to hear from five Bucknell University students, who presented their revitalization plan for the Shamokin-Coal Township community and also to discuss the pros and cons of Saturday’s “Taking it to the Streets” event.

Attending the meeting were Mayor John Brown, Chief of Police Darwin Tobias III, Rep. Kurt Masser, AOAA Director of Operations Dave Porzi, Northumberland County Director of Planning and Economic Development Kathy Jeremiah, owners of Heritage Restaurant Sam and Kathy Vetovich, a number of other local business owners and five students from Bucknell University who presented a study on revitalization in the Shamokin-Coal Township community relative to the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA) and its patrons.

Bucknell presentation

The Bucknell University study group, consisting of five students: Ashley Vecchio, Lucy Donovan, Colin Fee, Arianne Evans and Jake Schaeffer, delivered a Power Point presentation titled “Shamokin, Pa. Revitalization Strategies.” It focused on federal assistance, marketing, new industry, eco-tourism and case studies to address how the city and surrounding community can leverage the AOAA to revitalize and redevelop its downtown and grow its businesses to have an increased economic impact.

The study group recommended: A continued partnership between the local community and AOAA; Working to obtain federal ARC (Appalachian Regional Commission) and POWER Investment Bucknell SBDC grant monies; a voucher program for local restaurant discounts with AOAA riders and other patrons; a local gift shop; increased advertising through social media (Instagram and Facebook) along with flyers; and more community events.

AOAA street ride, pros and cons

According to the study and local business owners, the Taking it to the Streets ride event was largely a success that saw many businesses double or even triple their normal activity and number of customers.

In addition to the increased business, the study also found that the event promoted an increased visitor stake in the community, which they said would make it appealing to a large number of visitors, both locally and from out of town or state. They believe that the city, in conjunction with the AOAA riders and off-roaders, could market itself as a national off-road entity and develop a new local economy, with downtown shops geared to local outdoor tourism, sightseeing or the sale of off-road equipment in addition to other types of standard businesses such as local eateries, which would also be tied in.

Local business owner Kathy Vetovich said that her eatery, the newly opened Heritage Restaurant, was packed all day long with off-road patrons.

“Creating a gift shop or marketing new tourist memorabilia is a concept we discussed about two or three years ago, in conjunction with the Whaleback and many of our other unique outdoor sites in this area,” said Porzi. “We could have local businesses in the area that carry AOAA merchandise with pictures of many of our sites.”

Brown and Tobias both said that the street ride event had an extremely positive impact on the local downtown businesses. There were only a few minor issues on the negative side, such as thick mud on Anthracite Street, traffic congestion due to a 5-mph speed limit for the riders and a few separate incidents involving riders not following the rules and drivers responding with road rage.

Other negatives found by the study group were noise pollution, changing aesthetics of the downtown and possible soil degredation from repeated or reckless riding.

The future use of Route 125 as an access point also came up as a proposed new idea but would need to be further discussed and agreed upon with Coal Township commissioners.

The restaurant voucher idea, which was strongly encouraged by Vetovich, seemed to be well-received. “We need to work collectively with one another to improve Shamokin and have more of these types of events in the future,” said Vetovich.

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