New Cumberland puts hope in plan to attract businesses, residents
After two years of talk about downtown revitalization in New Cumberland, a plan intended to help the borough write its next chapter is expected to be unveiled this winter.
Elected officials, business leaders and borough residents involved in the planning process are optimistic that the revitalization effort — already credited with attracting several new restaurants and retailers over the last year — will spur more growth and bring more people to the Cumberland County community of about 7,000 residents.
“This is about long-term economic viability for the borough,” said Councilman Don Kibler, one of the leaders of a steering committee for the revitalization project.
Kibler is one of many longtime borough residents who have watched the West Shore community go through highs and lows.
The last big low was the 2014 loss of Coakley’s Restaurant and Irish Pub, an anchor property along Bridge Street that closed when its owner filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Coming on the heels of a recession and the loss of other small businesses in New Cumberland, the end of Coakley’s further dampened downtown foot traffic for a few years.
But with new owners renovating the former Coakley’s property since last fall, new businesses have moved into downtown and traffic is picking up again. The nearby West Shore Theatre also is under new ownership, with a nonprofit planning to revive the space as a theater.
Breathing new life into those two landmark properties does “nothing but add credibility to the revitalization effort,” Kibler said. He cited the September purchase of the former Pete’s Olde Towne Bar & Grill on Market Street as a further sign of investor confidence in New Cumberland.
Among the borough’s strengths are its location and its walkability, said Councilman Kevin Hall, who moved to New Cumberland about five years ago from Harrisburg. He’s an attorney at Tucker Arensberg in Lemoyne.
New Cumberland is just across the Susquehanna River from the capital city. It’s also next to Lemoyne and Camp Hill, which get a lot of daily traffic.
But despite its established town center and a cadre of longtime business owners, Bridge Street in New Cumberland is often overlooked by businesses looking to expand and by prospective homeowners, Hall said.
“We have not done a great job historically of marketing ourselves,” he said. “Other communities have done a better job.”
Hall sees the revitalization plan — which is currently built around five broad areas — as a way for New Cumberland to better promote its strengths.
The biggest challenge, he believes, will be maintaining momentum once the final strategy is in place.
“How do we keep it up and keep interested the 50 to 75 people who have committed their time and resources for another year while we get this thing moving?” he said.
Kevin Cicak, director of business development for New Cumberland Federal Credit Union, isn’t worried that the community effort will fade. He sees the planning process, which has been guided by Cumberland County-based Gannett Fleming, as a strong partnership between businesses, community groups and borough government.
That said, many initiatives will take time and money. A draft of the current priority areas includes the following goals: increase economic vibrancy; expand arts, culture and entertainment opportunities; improve housing options and protect property values; enhance New Cumberland as a safe, active and healthy community; and strengthen community identity and promotion.
Members of the steering committee said they could see some short-term branding and beautification efforts happening first — like mural projects and new signage coming into the borough — as a way to get people involved. New community events could be added to the calendar.
Those efforts could spark longer-term projects and help entice more real estate investments in the borough.
“We’re looking at younger families and younger people who want to establish their home for the next 20 to 50 years,” said Faith Curran, a lifelong resident and member of the borough planning commission. “We just want people to know we are open for business and that we’re looking for new ideas.”
Part of the plan is expected to focus on borough ordinances and potential ways to extend commercial activity in the borough. Business owners have also said increased codes enforcement is needed to deal with older buildings and absentee landlords.
Kibler also expects downtown parking could be explored by the borough. Public parking in the form of a parking garage or surface lots has been floated in the past as a way to accommodate increased visitation if more businesses move into town.
The committee members are currently working to refine priority projects to include in a master plan that Gannett Fleming will draft for the borough.
“We are being proactive to cast our own future,” Kibler said. “We are doing whatever is needed to make sure we don’t fall behind.”