ASHLAND - People passing through Ashland may have noticed remodeled storefronts, new businesses and a renewed sense of community.

Many attribute the positive changes to Ashland Downtown Inc. (ADI), an organization formed in 2003 to help revitalize the business district.

"We've got a great program here, and the support from the community has been tremendous," ADI vice president Bill Farley said. "With downtown manager Greg Fisher working for us, the sky's the limit."

Outside appeal

On the advice of the late state Sen. James Rhoades, ADI was organized to make the best use of funding available through the Main Street program. The program helps municipalities spruce up with facade rehabilitation and other programs.

"We worked to improve 25 building facades in town," Farley said. "That got the ball rolling."

What happened next came as a surprise to the volunteer organization.

"People began, on their own, to fix up their own places," Fisher said. "At that point, you could see the improvement being made in the look of Ashland."

Soon, the community embraced ADI's mission, helping the organization raise $210,000 over a five-year period through its capital campaign.

Farley credits Fisher, who was hired in 2006.

"He is a good young leader. Every idea for a community event came from him," Farley remarked.

"I couldn't do any of this without this great group of people behind me," Fisher said. "Everyone involved sees the growth and potential in Ashland, with new buildings like the Subway restaurant, Ashland Park, which has become a community gathering place, and the Streetscape project."

Working in conjunction with Ashland Borough, the third phase of the Streetscape project is under way. This involves replacing sidewalks and curb cuts for handicapped accessibility and removing two trees from the 400 and 500 blocks of Centre Street. The first two phases did the same work in the 200 and 300 blocks of the business district.

The project is funded by a $250,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED).

Sense of community

To help raise funds for ADI, members began exploring ideas in 2006, but their first plan nearly broke up the organization.

"We had the idea for a casino night, but there were some members who didn't feel comfortable about that," Farley said. "Plus, there was nothing for kids to do."

After much brainstorming, the casino night idea was replaced by an apple festival, an apple-themed event that includes food, entertainment, games and a pie-eating contest.

"Every year, the AppleFest response has gotten bigger and better," Fisher said. "Once that was a success, the community was ready for more."

So far in 2012, ADI has either sponsored, or helped with, the annual Easter extravaganza, Community Appreciation Night, the annual farmer's market, the second edition of its Christmas ornament series and the Ashland ArtWalk.

ADI's next big event is the eighth annual "Old Fashioned Christmas," a week-long celebration at another ADI addition to the community, Ashland Park at Fifth and Centre streets, which was completed in 2011.

"We will have children's movies, an ice sculpting competition, gingerbread houses by elementary students and a candlelight vigil featuring luminarias with the proceeds going to the Ronald McDonald House," Fisher said.

It's all topped off with the Downtown Christmas event from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15. Downtown Christmas will feature carriage rides, the Reading Pretzel City Chorus and a live nativity.

The future

Because its state funding has run out, ADI is preparing for the organizational changes that must come.

"We will be a different organization in 2013, a little more streamlined," Farley explained.

Farley said what is needed most are volunteers and new ideas.

"This will always be a community organization, and we want everyone's input," Fisher said.

"We will even send a car for you," Farley joked. "Everyone is more than welcome to join us."

Ashland Downtown Inc. officers are Tom Rebuck, president; Bill Farley, vice president; Barbara Mullins, treasurer; Selena Snyder, secretary, and Joe Cataldo, John G. Devine, Marylee Rebuck, MaryClaire O'Donnell and Gary Glessner, board members.

More information about ADI can be found by calling 875-3571 or going to www.ashlanddowntown.org.