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Sharon residents discuss branding downtown area to boost economy

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One idea is to be known as an arts community, but one expert said residents should plan to invest in that case

SHARON, Pa. (WYTV) – The city of Sharon is in the process of creating a redevelopment plan for its downtown area. Thursday night, data was presented that may help drive that plan.

One area being looked at to expand has been the arts — if that’s the plan, the residents were told they should prepare to invest.

Bill Fontana of the Pennsylvania Downtown Center, which helps redevelop downtown areas, led the discussion starting with the positives of downtown Sharon.

“People thought that things were getting better, that there was enthusiasm here, that the community is evolving,” he said.

One of Fontana’s favorite negative responses from the survey was “relentless mediocrity.”

He also wanted to know if the 50 people in attendance were OK with being marketed as a small city.

“So being small, walkable and compact is a good thing,” said resident Stephen Theiss.

Fontana had data showing that Penn State Shenango and the Shenango River were two assets that should be focused on.

Other data indicated the city has old thinking and that the downtown area lacks a brand identity.

When talking about making the arts a part of Sharon’s downtown plan, Fontana said of the people he surveyed, no one said they had been to an art gallery or museum in a year.

“We’re not talking about people who like art or want to do it for a hobby, we’re talking about it as an economic generator,” Fontana said.

Walter Herrmann owns the pottery shop Studio 83. He says there needs to be an effort to teach kids about the value of the arts.

“There is not enough backing, there is not enough purchasing of art, there is not enough taking of classes. There’s not enough of that right now to just call 20 artists into this and start doing business. They’ll all go bankrupt,” Herrmann said.

After being prompted from one woman, Fontana said music and live theater are different than art galleries and museums, and if Sharon decides to go that way, it’ll have to invest human and financial resources.

“It’s not going to be something where you say, ‘Oh, we’re going to be an arts community,’ and in two years you’re going to be there. It’s a longer-term effort,” Fontana said.

There will be two more public meetings between now and April.

The plan for downtown Sharon should be finalized by May and is expected to start being implemented by the beginning of 2021.

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Mel Robbins Main Area Middle

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