CHESTERTOWN - For years, Chester citizens have been perplexed and distressed that their once-vibrant downtown, full of business activity decades ago, has declined substantially.
Where local citizens once shopped and socialized in Chestertown, many storefronts on Main St. are now vacant and deteriorating.
Where pedestrians once strolled to enjoy the small-town ambiance, vehicles now just drive past.
A growing group of local citizens are now seeking to turn the situation around by revitalizing the core of the historic town.
A record turnout of about 60 local citizens attended the Chestertown Main Street Enhancement Committee meeting held Feb. 3.
Noting that Main Street has deteriorated over the past decade, leaving more than nine vacant buildings and many others needing repair, Supervisor Fred Monroe said at the meeting the time has arrived to take action.
Monroe talked about the GlobalFoundries microprocessor chip Plant in Malta that is expected to boost area employment by 57,000 workers or more, most with high-paying jobs. Some of these people, he said, will be looking north for homes - and spinoff businesses will likely flourish as satellite high-technology enterprises relocate to be near the multi-billion-dollar, state-of-the-art plant.
Chestertown needs to spruce up and enhance its image to attract these people and enterprises, he said.
Monroe also talked about how planned extensions of broadband Internet connections are likely to include Chestertown, bringing along business opportunities and people who want to relocate to rural areas while keeping connected to the information highway. Broadband is likely to be serving Chester as soon as next year, he said, and Chester needs to offer a pleasant downtown experience and a pleasing streetscape to attract its share of people migrating to upstate New York, he said.
Warren County has received a $100,000 streetscape improvement grant, and Chester will be a partial beneficiary in developing strategies for revitalizing its downtown, he said.
Chestertown Rotary Club official Rich Dwyer said his group would be interested in helping to clean up and beautify Main Street, and the club members were ready to volunteer their services.
Resident Ann Murphy proposed a study be conducted to determine the demographics of Main Street, so an effective, sustainable revitalization strategy could be pursued.
Town Water Superintendent Jason Monroe said that the influx of summer visitors has changed from those renting cabins and motels to those occupying their second homes. A way has to be found to get local people, including second homeowners, to shop locally, he said. In the same vein, entrepreneurs and community leaders have to work together to bring good jobs and affordable housing to town so that younger people can remain in the town without relocating to other regions, he said.
This migration of youth has been a trend in the Adirondacks that has alarmed community leaders and public policy observers in recent years.
Resident Ann Murphy advised that applying paint and planting flowers would help improve the downtown, but to be wary that too extensive upgrades might drive up property values so local stores might not be viable, and local residents might not be able to afford wares and services offered.
Local resident Mary Miller said that the older buildings downtown are expensive to heat and that parking is a substantial problem.
Markie Carroll, former co-owner of Panther Mountain House, said that merely washing windows in the vacant buildings would make them look better and that the school children could create seasonal art work on the windows to make the buildings more attractive temporarily while they remain empty.
Carl Johnson, who co-owns a bed and breakfast enterprise on Landon Hill, said that at a recent Chamber meeting it was announced that the new owners of Lincoln Logs will be working more with the community, and perhaps this will include beautification and redevelopment efforts.
After much discussion, it was agreed to send out a survey to the those attending the meeting to gather input in devising a plan. Monroe suggested that once the plan has been drafted, it should be presented to the Town Board for review.
A committee was formed to prepare and send out the survey before the next meeting which will be held at 7 p.m. March 3 in the Chester Municipal Center.
Journal Editor Thom Randall contributed to this report.