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Downtown Reading:
Historic Foundations,
New Beginnings
Aaron Gantz, Executive Director of Downtown Revitalization, GRCA


hat does it mean to revitalize a city in Pennsylvania?
There are many options, and many paths to take, but
one thing is certain: no place can ever be what it was.
You can't go backwards, you can only move forward.
The Greater Reading Chamber Alliance (GRCA) was formed
out of a strategic alignment between three Berks County business
organizations; Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce & Industry,
Greater Reading Economic Partnership and the Greater Berks
Development Fund. In January 2017, Randy Peers started as
President and CEO of the GRCA.
During his first several months in Berks County, Peers spent
time meeting with community stakeholders, leaders, organizations
and elected officials to pulse on the community's needs, challenges,
and opportunities. From these conversations came GRCA's new
strategic themes in early 2017.
Peers shared the strategic themes with the community,
emphasizing the theme that held the number one spot in
importance in the minds of GRCA's President and CEO and
so many stakeholders: Reading Matters. It didn't take long for
someone from "outside" the community to come in and tell us what
we already know: the town center of Berks County is important.
In nearly every conversation, it was clear the City of Reading, the
County Seat, and largest municipality, is critical to the overall health
and wealth of Berks County.
Based on this identified strategic theme came the commitment
to putting resources behind someone who will wake up every
day and focus on downtown Reading: an Executive Director
of Downtown Revitalization. But for this position-and any
downtown revitalization efforts-to have measurable success, a few
items were necessary: collaboration, shared vision, and, importantly,
a strategic plan.

So, what's in this new plan?
The plan begins with a simple but powerful vision: Downtown
Reading is a vibrant, urban destination where people not only
want to live, work, and play, but also want to make permanent
investments in the urban center of Reading.
To achieve this vision, the collaboration piece is key. The GRCA
therefore must seek to create a sustained, strategic, private/public
plan, in partnership with an involved community, making this
vision a reality.
The plan has several aspirations that can make this vision a reality,
* Encourage and facilitate economic development to strengthen
the downtown Reading commercial core and the surrounding
* Attract and retain quality investment in downtown Reading;
* Cultivate an environment where businesses and entrepreneurs
thrive in downtown Reading; and
* The perception of downtown Reading is largely positive and
viewed as a unique and attractive place for business, entertainment
and living.
This last perception piece truly matters. Reading's identity has
been tied to many things over its rich history: from industries
to downtown shopping to the railroad to resilience, rebirth, and
revitalization. It's important to understand that this plan and broad
partnership is meant to envision a new, vibrant city of Reading:
one that builds on its history but highlights its readiness as a place
primed for investment and opportunity.
Continued on page 12

The Berks County Community Foundation, Berks Alliance and
GRCA, along with City of Reading officials, have pledged more
than $1.7 million to efforts to revitalize downtown Reading during
the course of a new, five-year strategic plan.


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