Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Dropping Of The Ball

Tonight in New York City, they'll drop a ball to bring in 2016. I bet a lot of you will watch it on TV and use it as your cue that midnight's arrived and you can drink champagne and smooch your loved ones and whatever else you traditionally do to begin a new year. I don't. I'd prefer to take my cue from Norristown instead of NYC. Some of my neighbors will set off fireworks. Some local friends will post their greetings on Facebook. I don't need some far away city to make it official.

I've said on the Diary in years past that Norristown ought to do something similar to Times Square's ball drop to start the New Year, only with something rising instead of falling. Doesn't have to be expensive. Maybe ACPPA would take the challenge of making a paper mache or cloth eagle that could be raised on the flagpole outside Municipal Hall. Or a bee, since that's Norristown's symbol. Or a dragon for our connection with dragon boats. Doesn't even have to be raised at midnight New Year's Eve. The first business day or Saturday of the New Year would suffice. A pep rally of sorts. Something that says we N-towners recognize that this is a new beginning and we're all ready--together--to rise to whatever's ahead.

I usually do an end-of-the-year blog to remind everyone about our town's accomplishments over the last year. This year, however, our few town-wide accomplishments were in the first half of the year--Fourth Fridays, for instance. Last summer,  my end-of-the-week event blogs were packed with things to do. Lately, not so much.

Did we build on our successes this year? No. Most of the time, someone dropped the ball. But unlike NYC, not in a good way.

Norristown Business Association evaporated. This happened because the "president" of NBA simply stopped having meetings. He didn't officially announce an end to the organization. Had he merely told the membership at a meeting that he couldn't be president anymore, we could have elected new officers and gone on from there. But no, he dropped the ball without telling anyone. I'm willing to help reorganize the NBA, but I can't do it alone. Anyone in N-town who are interested in getting together to discuss it can contact me at this email.

The NBA was responsible for getting Fourth Fridays started, but some downtown businesses also jumped on board, seemingly enthusiastic. I talked to Oscar Vance a few weeks ago and Jazz on Cherry Street will be continuing as well as other events at 216 Cherry. Yet all the other venues involved in Fourth Fridays gave up when the NBA folded. They dropped the ball, too, just when people were starting to notice and compare us to Phoenixville and say Norristown was rising again.

Our government spent some of our tax money hiring a consultant from Better Block to guide us while we planned an event designed to show residents and budding entrepreneurs what could be done to bring visitors back to our downtown. At the first meetings, we had representatives not only from our government and the downtown neighborhood, but other concerned citizens from around town anxious to help get N-town back on track. We planned the event for Small Business Saturday to kick off the holiday season. Then 2 months went by and we heard nothing from the Planning Department (they were supposed to be in charge). Not until several of the other committee members (including myself) started sending them emails asking what was going on did we get an email in return saying they'd decided to put off the Better Block event until "the beginning of 2016." Municipal Hall totally dropped the ball, and frankly, I'll be surprised if they pick it up again. Meanwhile, I can't count how many people have told me how dead our downtown looks this holiday season. I was down there last Monday night. It was like a ghost town. And the snowflakes on the light poles are in serious need of replacement bulbs. It's pitiful.

This year up in the North End, because people who don't live in the 3rd District saw it as their sworn duty to make sure Linda Christian left office, some of the projects she was spearheading were left dangling. I won't say she dropped the ball--it wasn't her fault, and I know she's done her best to make sure Council had the info they needed to continue. One such project was a neighborhood committee that was meeting with Francis Vargas, the developer of the Montgomery Hospital property, to discuss the design of the new senior apartments to be build there. The intent was to make sure the buildings blend into the neighborhood and do N-town proud. Our last meeting with Mr. Vargas was to be in late September. Mr Vargas has sent emails saying he's committed to meeting with us, but 3 months later, we're still waiting. Now, with Council reorganizing next week, I'm not sure who, if anyone, will pick up that particular ball.

I don't mean to be as pessimistic as I sound. A lot of other groups and individuals in Norristown have shown their integrity and made some great contributions this year--Buck Jones, CADCOM, the Dragon Boat Club, the Norristown Preservation Society, to name a few. Yet I can't help but be disappointed in our goverment and our business community. Real gains could have been made in our downtown economic situation. Now I hear, "Things will turn around when the distillery opens." Once again, we're putting all our eggs in one basket. That's never, ever worked in the past. No one person or company is going to swoop in and save us.

So, one last depressing look back. I'll start looking ahead again next week, but I hope you'll all give this some thought over the weekend. Let's all make a resolution to not give up so easily in 2016.

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