More money could be made available for development
By Joe Beck -- firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- The town and county are negotiating an agreement under which the town could take $90,000 it now pays to support Samuels Library and use it for economic development, Mayor Timothy W. Darr said Wednesday.
The county Board of Supervisors would have to approve such an agreement, which would span two years and give the town an extra $45,000 each year, Darr said.
Darr disclosed the negotiations at a meeting town officials called to meet with merchants to talk about ways of improving the community's business climate.
Although the meeting at the Daily Grind on Main Street was open to any business person, most of the discussion focused on the plight of the downtown. Many of the 25 merchants who attended spoke bitterly of a downtown beset by stores closing and moving to shopping centers on the edge of the community. Depressed property values and a lumbering local government bureaucracy were also on the list of problems.
"My heart sinks as I'm listening to this dialogue," said Arleen Narron, owner of Arleen Brown antiques. She spoke after hearing several audience members complain to Town Manager Steve Burke about the slow pace of efforts to improve signage aimed at helping tourists locate downtown and its businesses.
Burke said town staff members want to get the support of the Town Council for specific signage before going ahead with the project.
"Let's get it done," Narron said. "Let's not talk about another study."
Darr said the town faces fiscal limits in what it can do. He said he hoped extra money obtained through negotiations with the county over the library could be used to hire an extra staff person to strengthen economic development efforts.
But Darr cautioned the merchants that town officials need to receive a consistent message from them about what kind of support they want to boost their businesses.
"How can we as a town support you all without having clear, common goals?" Darr asked the audience. "It's not just a town effort. It's an effort by all of us," he added.
Some business owners blamed the business community itself for lagging development.
Several complained about other businesses with unsightly outdoor advertising displays that create a poor image of the town and discourage visitors to Shenandoah National Park from stopping to shop.
Others said the downtown needed a more diverse group of businesses. Rachel Failmezger, who manages Vino E. Formaggio Restaurant and Wine Bar on Main Street, said she respected her fellow downtown business owners, but her customers complain about a lack of shopping opportunities.
"They say there is absolutely nothing to do, nowhere to go on Main Street," she said. "They don't want to see another jewelry store, another antique store. They're bored to death with our town because there's nothing to do."