South side of 400 block of Penn Street in downtown Reading

READING, Pa. – When Reading City Council decided late last year to dissolve the Downtown Improvement District, there were many questions about the future of events and activities in the downtown area.

On Monday night, during its Committee of the Whole meeting, city council heard an optimistic outlook from Cindy Castner, the city's newly appointed downtown coordinator.

Street cleaning

One of the most pressing questions had to do with the day-to-day cleanup of the downtown area, one of the primary duties previously undertaken by the DID.

"I know everyone is concerned about cleaning," Castner said. "We are about to sign an agreement with the Hope Rescue Mission. With the help of the Hope Rescue Mission, we are hoping to not only have the downtown cleaned but also provide an outreach to the homeless as well."

Castner said the workers will be closely supervised by staff from organization, which offers residential programs to help men without homes transition back into the community.

"We are very excited about this, as we think it will be a great partnership," Castner said. "Who better to talk to a homeless person than someone who was in their shoes not long ago?"

In addition, Castner said the city will be hiring four part-time staff members who will work at various times to ensure trash is being cleaned up following the busiest times of the days.

Community events

Another significant concern was the future of events that were organized by the DID.

Castner said she has been working very closely with the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance, which she said is fully supportive of the city's efforts.

"It has been comforting to find out that all of the events were not planned directly by the DID but by different entities, all of whom have come forward," she said.

Castner noted tentative plans are currently being made for First Friday entertainment events, the Christmas parade and the Fire and Ice Festival.

She said it will ultimately be up to the city administration to determine if the events will be allowed based on COVID-19 restrictions in place at the time of the events.

Castner added she has also put in a request to the mayor's office for permission to hold the weekly farmer's market, which is planned to be located at a lot at Seventh and Penn streets.

City landscaping

On the topic of landscaping and planters, Castner said she has had some conversations with Alvernia University, and its landscaper is now coming up with a plan for landscaping on Penn Street from Second to 11th streets, including the Penn Street islands and the planters.

Alvernia is locating a downtown campus at 401 Penn Street. The Reading CollegeTowne initiative is being done in collaboration with the city to assist with economic development.

"Our goal is to have it looking awesome in the downtown by the third week of May," Castner added.

Transition of DID equipment, vehicles

Another topic Castner said she has been asked to address is the plan for the DID equipment and vehicles.

Castner said the DID trucks are at the city garage and are awaiting title transfers so that they can be used for downtown business.

She said all equipment used at DID events is currently being stored at GoggleWorks Center for the Arts, which has agreed to do so in exchange for being allowed to use tables as needed.

"When (COVID-19) restrictions are lifted and activities resume, I am hoping to make the equipment available for use by downtown merchants if a business is having an event requiring tables and chairs," Castner said.

Moving forward

"I know you are all concerned that there is no board of directors and no authority and no staff," Castner said. "We will move ahead and are working with what we have to work with. We don't know that this will be a forever thing, but for now, I have been asked to try and put things back in balance. For now, we have the strength of the city and public works behind us. We have been getting tremendous cooperation."

City councilmembers said they were pleased with the work Castner has done in the first three weeks on the job and asked her to make regular reports at council meetings.

In another matter, council discussed an amendment to police promotion requirements. One of the proposed changes is to eliminate the requirement for a candidate for captain to have college credits.

The next Committee of the Whole meeting is April 26 at 5 p.m.

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