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After big-city stints, young leaders pitch in on York revitalization

When Timothy Miller was growing up in Shrewsbury, he wrote a poem about his hometown, which borders Interstate 83, called “Exit Town.”

Miller went off to college and worked in Baltimore and Washington, D.C, thinking he had left Exit Town behind. But in 2010 he returned to York County, helping to lead a resurgence in business, the arts and dining in York’s downtown.

And he’s glad he did.

“It’s great to see all of the dynamic energy happening right now in downtown, but it’s happening based upon a lot of work done by some brave people,” he said, citing people who have been working for a decade or more

Miller spoke recently inside the Market Street offices of Downtown Inc, a city economic and cultural improvement organization. Miller has been its acting executive director since March.

He is among many younger York County community leaders who grew up there, left but have returned.

Thanks to the path that was paved by others in years past, Miller said, the atmosphere in York is “much more favorable for some folks (developers) to come in from out of town and see the real opportunities here.”

York and other cities of its size, Miller said, must ask themselves what comes first – residential, commercial or retail – as they try to rebuild.

“Do you need to have a clustering of restaurants, or do you need to have great public spaces first?” Miller asked.

But in York, “we see all of those things coming together at the same time, and what we’re hoping is, that because our revitalization isn’t just based on one sector of the community, this advancement is going to be far more resilient … and we’ll be able to keep the momentum going.”

Downtown Inc lost its long-time executive director Sonia Huntzinger in March to a position in Coatesville, but thanks to Miller and its six other staffers it hasn’t missed a beat, organization board president Krista Darr said.

“It’s always a challenge when you lose your leadership, but we had comfort in having a strong and capable staff,” Darr said. “We were confident in what they would be able to do, but we’re thankful that they have exceeded expectations.”

Downtown Inc is busy with a range of York City events, such as First Friday, a recent “Go Green in the City” street fair, frequent walking tours and other activities, such as helping downtown York eateries form a restaurant association.

Promotions and events “help us reach a large audience … and make a great first impression for those who haven’t visited downtown York before,” said Meagan Feeser, Downtown Inc’s director of marketing.

A West York Area High grad, she also left for the big city – in her case, D.C., Philadelphia and New York – before returning to York in 2010.

When she moved back to York, “there was a feeling that big things were happening downtown and that I could be a part of it, so I dove right in, volunteering for various groups and events,” Feeser said. “I decided, if this is where I’m going to spend the rest of my life, I want to help make it great.”

Downtown Inc works with private developers who are looking to do projects in downtown York.

Miller sees a “better diversity of restaurants (coming) in the next six to eight months” in downtown York, plus an increasing number of apartments that “will be incredibly important to our merchants.”

He expects the apartments to provide a local base that would encourage businesses to be open longer, have Sunday hours or “just have a stronger 24-7 base of spending that they might not (otherwise) have.”

Downtown Inc also is working with the city and others to coordinate the development of the York County Heritage Rail Trail.

“There is just too much great stuff happening, and I don’t think we’ve seen any slowdown this year at all, and if anything, we’ve had to accelerate,” he said. “This is going to be one of the busiest years for this organization ever.”

David O'Connor
Dave O'Connor covers York County, manufacturing, higher education, nonprofits, and workforce development. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at [email protected].

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