San Antonio, Texas, and Williamsport, PA are generally not thought to have anything in common, but there are some general similarities. San Antonio is well known for the Alamo, just as Williamsport is widely renowned for Little League. They also are cities that border rivers, which historically have been both a blessing and a burden. For both cities, the rivers provided a needed water source, and also a means of transportation that was instrumental in the early days of commerce and trade. However, both the Susquehanna and the San Antonio River periodically flood, and thus dikes were made to protect the community. Moreover, both cities discovered that these dikes not only served to prevent flooding but also served as a beautiful place for the populace to take a walk or ride a bike.
The River Walk of San Antonio has become more famous than the Alamo. It consists of 15 miles of sidewalks and paths, filled with shops, restaurants, and access to museums, hotels, and historic sites. Millions of visitors annually come to San Antonio to enjoy the River Walk. Of course, San Antonio is a city of over a million and a half people, and Williamsport is shy of 30,000. That being said, the example of San Antonio demonstrates the potential of revitalizing a city through featuring a natural resource.
The city of Williamsport has suffered the deterioration in the 1970s through the 1990s that many cities, large and small, suffered in the United States. The suburbs were where the growth and development were happening, and the cities steadily lost factories, businesses, stores, shops, and population. Cities had to “reinvent” themselves for their very survival.
Williamsport was fortunate to have several pieces fall into place. Williamsport Area Community College was taken over by Penn State University and became Pennsylvania College of Technology. Under the administration of Mayor Gabe Campana, Williamsport has seen major improvements in the downtown area, evidenced by the Cinema Center, Liberty Arena, new YMCA, the “Greens” park, etc. However, almost all of these initiatives were in the western portion of the city. East of Market Street, known as the “old city,” saw little improvement.
Lycoming College, an amazing little college that defies the decline seen in other similar sized institutions of higher learning, is located on the east end of Williamsport. It began an initiative that, when finally completed, will link the two colleges together with the River Walk, but also significantly enhance that section of the city with some $17 million in public and private funds.
Originally listed as the East Third Street/Old City Gateway Revitalization Project, it thankfully has a shorthand name, “Connect Williamsport.” Lycoming College will have a new Gateway Building as the main entrance to their campus located at Basin and Fourth Streets, but this will necessitate some major road restructuring. All through the east end area, there will be traffic improvements, new signals and crosswalks, which are vital links that will “connect” this end of the city with the Susquehanna River Walk and for those using the bridge to connect to the interstate or Route 15.
Best of all, as Dr. Kent Trachte, president of Lycoming College notes, “We anticipate that the Gateway Project will encourage additional investment in the east end and become a foundation for its revitalization. We are excited about the opportunity to connect the college and its students to downtown the River Walk.”
This project will be going on for several years, but it is hard not to be excited about the future of Williamsport with initiatives like this one. In the next decade, it is not hard to picture that the River Walk and the interconnection of Williamsport between the two colleges and the downtown would be a major driver to the emergence of new businesses, housing, cafes and restaurants, all in an area that will be easy to navigate. So maybe Williamsport, like San Antonio and the Alamo, becomes known for more things than just Little League Baseball.