Answers to Lansdale Patch Editor, Tony DiDomizio’s, questions, 10/31/2013
1.) Why are you seeking re-election as mayor? I would like to see Lansdale continue to revitalize and become the destination that it once was, full of shops and restaurants, the way it was in the 1970’s as I remember it from my childhood.
2.) What accomplishments do you cherish in your time as mayor? What things would you like to see changed in Lansdale? One of the accomplishments that I am most proud of is the Oktoberfest, which in turn spurred the Lansdale Craft Beer Festival. Between these two events, over $100,000 dollars have been donated to local non-profits including the Lansdale Library. I am also very proud of introducing Virago Bakery and Molly Maguires to downtown in 2008. I am very pleased to have been a founding member of the successful WaterArtGallery, Lansdale’s only art gallery, which started in 2011. I brought Caleb Torrice of Tabora Café and his landlord together and helped convince both of them that this ‘marriage’ would be good for both parties and good for Lansdale. I persuaded Dale Mechalas of the Archive Bookstore to open a satellite store in the Dresher Arcade. And lastly, because the Oktoberfest and the Lansdale Craft Beer Festival, Round Guys Brewery opened in Lansdale last year. When I first became mayor in 2008, I looked at the common denominators in other towns, and I assessed what they had and what we didn’t. They had restaurants, cafes, bakeries, art galleries, breweries and other shops. So what did I do? I went looking for those types of establishments with the intent of recruiting them to town. And it worked. Without paid consultants. All for the love of Lansdale. These new businesses bring thousands of people into Lansdale each week every week, which in turn benefit other businesses. This is what Lansdale needs.
I would like to see the focus of Council and the Economic Development Committee (EDC) return to this simple recipe for success. Instead, they have been bogged down with bureaucratic, marginal issues such as wayfinding, branding and the website. (They even hired Delta Development back in February of 2012 without an RFP. Their rationale for not doing so would hold up Lansdale’s development. In one year they produced nothing.) Therefore, I would like to ask this question: does anyone go to Doylestown, Ambler or Phoenixville for their websites, branding or wayfinding? The answer is no. When I was president of the EDC, the task was simple, how many businesses did the EDC members contact? How many responded? And how many visited the Lansdale? Not rocket science, but practical and successful. We even had a restaurant, the Chip Shop, from New York City come to visit.
3.) What issues still face Lansdale at this time? How would you address or solve these issues? There are many rental units in town, which can lower property values. I have heard this while out campaigning. There are different approaches to solving this problem. One approach, which I believe this Council and Administration promote, is to increase fees, electric rates and taxes. This is a top down approach. However, the real, organic, sustainable solution is to start revitalizing downtown as I have done. Downtown is like the heart in a human body. If it is weak, then the rest of the body suffers. One need look no farther than downtown Norristown for what happened there. As downtown Lansdale becomes more and more attractive and bustling, property values will increase. As property values increase rentals will turn back into single family dwellings, and crime will decrease. Examples of this approach are Conshohocken and Ambler.
Another issue still facing Lansdale is the dilemma of what to do with 311 West Main Street. It is my firm opinion that the Borough should not be in the arts, catering and café business with 100% of tax payer money. This Council says it doesn’t want to manage or operate the facility, but they keep dumping money into it. They haven’t answered the question as to how much we will subsidize the arts in Lansdale. However, they have admitted it won’t be profitable, but the question remains, how much are the tax payers willing to lose each year? $10,000? $70,000? Inherently, this will divide the community, and the arts center will be a political hot potato every election cycle. My solution to this problem is to put 311 West Main Street up for sale with a deed restriction that limits its use to a restaurant/theater, thus also satisfying its proposed intent as far as the State and County are concerned. All the successful theaters in the region—Ambler’s, Doylestown’s, Sellersville’s, Phoenixville’s—are more than 80% privately funded. Without that private sector commitment, the Borough will always be the scapegoat for its lack of profitability.
4.) How would you improve your role as it relates to the police department of Lansdale? When I became mayor, I went around to other municipalities looking for their successes. Public safety was always a number one priority. Phoenixville hired additional officers to deal with their drug and prostitution problem, and soon afterwards their town turned the corner. In 2008, Lansdale was deficient in its number of officers. Thankfully, this Council and Administration hired additional officers which I supported. I meet with our Police Chief every week to discuss crime in Lansdale—something that my predecessor did not do. One of the first things I did as mayor was walk up and down Main Street with a couple of our Sergeants, and I have always been a supporter of a foot patrol officer on Main Street. Now we have a bike patrol officer. I also serve on the Montgomery County Correctional Board, which keeps me up to date with new programs which may affect Lansdale’s Police Department. One such development is a new video arraignment system for processing criminal cases. This system will hopefully help keep our officers in Lansdale when normally they would be transporting accused criminals to the CountyPrison. To summarize, I have always been a staunch supporter of our police department, and I will continue to be so. Chief McDyre can attest to that.