The “rebirth” of Lancaster village’s West Main Street has been anything but simple.
The vision to restore West Main to its glory of yesterdays gone by is sparking infighting within village circles and concern over federal grant money that is at stake.
The street thrived back in the 1950s and ’60s until a devastating fire destroyed half the block. During the urban renewal era a decade later, a huge complex was constructed there.
Last fall, part of the hulking Lancaster Village Partnership Complex at the end of West Main Street was torn down to clear a path to reopen the street, making it as it had been more than 40 years ago. A new street and a mix of development are envisioned as a magnet to revitalize the core business district.
The handful of merchants who have shops on West Main desperately want a fresh start for the struggling business district. But some officials worry that the village will make the same kind of mistake that was made 40 years ago.
“Once it’s in, it’s in,” Village Trustee William C. Schroeder said of plans to open up and rebuild a new West Main Street, running between Central Avenue and North Aurora Street. “Why have history repeat itself?”
The village’s Community Development Corporation and a Citizens’ Advisory Committee appointed by the village to help plan the redevelopment of the business district met last week.
But after the meeting, some questioned how the new West Main Street should be constructed. Others worried about $323,000 in federal grant money that the village could lose if it doesn’t meet a deadline.
Still others called for the village to delay the project and instead carefully scrutinize the plan in greater detail before moving forward. In the midst of the wide-ranging debate was uncertainty about what prospective developers would find most viable to build in that area.
At the same time, the village is under pressure to put a shovel in the ground by mid-October to start reconstructing West Main Street in some form, or else it could lose the $323,000 in federal grant money funneled through the county.
Plus, village officials know they can no longer count on receiving any of the $250,000 in grant money that had been promised by former state Assemblyman Dennis H. Gabryszak, who resigned in January amid sexual harassment allegations.
“We feel now that it would be a tragedy to move ahead with the plan without further study,” said Richard Young, a member of the citizens’ panel, a former village and planning boards’ member, and founder of Performance Advantage, located at the end of West Main. “Go back to the drawing boards and come up with alternatives that will fit.”
The mounting pressure is substantial for a project that already has taken years to get moving and to secure government funding.
Fueling further frustration is that bids on the construction of the West Main extension were opened by the village late last week and they came in higher than the village’s previously-approved bond issue of nearly $2 million for the project. The village may face the prospect of borrowing substantially more money than was anticipated.