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Study: City, towns need to spruce up for tourism; Alternative entrance to Warren, nicer signs

April 9, 2008
Rundown, semi-industrial appearance.' Certainly not the description you want to hear if you're a county trying to boost a weak tourism-based economy. Gary Esolen, director of PLACES, a consulting firm hired to conduct a comprehensive tourism study of Warren County and develop a strategic plan for tourism growth, used those exact words to describe the approach to the county's towns along Route 6 - particularly, the city of Warren. He calls the shabby appearance incompatible with tourism. 'The United Refinery is what it is,' Esolen wrote in his 'State of the County' report in the three-part study. 'And it is an important economic asset for the region, but no attempt is made to help visitors understand what they are seeing, and many travelers moving westward on Rt. 6, if they choose to go into Warren at all, might turn at the refinery and pursue a long approach through an industrial section, catching little or no sense of a lovely town, at least until arriving downtown.' The western entrance to the city offers similar industrial/commercial views once travelers pass the Holiday Inn. Esolen refers to this as a 'weak arrival experience.' And it may be the most dramatic opportunity for change for the county, if it truly wishes to expand its tourism economy. Esolen suggested that the city's middle entrance via Rt. 6 to Crescent Park Blvd. and across the Hickory Street Bridge is the most preferable entrance to direct tourists into the city. He recommended signs be placed at the Glade Bridge and at the Ludlow St. exit on Rt. 6, indicating that the entrance to downtown Warren lies ahead at the Mohawk Exit. He went on to recommend Crescent Park Blvd. from Rt. 6 to 'the crescent park should be cleaned up and beautified.' As for entrance to the city from the Glade Bridge, Esolen suggested the county enter discussions with United Refining concerning the possibility of erecting an interpretive billboard at the refinery, 'telling the story of the world's first billion-dollar oil field, and of the continuing role of the refinery in the local economy.' 'The United Refinery is an important economic asset for Warren and they have done a commendable job in making their facility as attractive as possible with newly painted tanks. However, approaching travelers unfamiliar with the community know only that they are seeing some kind of refinery. But oil was the single greatest influence in creating wealth in Warren County in its history, and visitors might find information about that interesting, making the arrival experience stronger.' As for other towns in the county, Esolen suggested creating 'celebratory entrances,' pointing out that officials in Youngsville have taken it upon themselves to identify the town as the 'gateway to the Pennsylvania Wilds.' According to Esolen, the town plans to place a series of sculptures of forest animals on Rt. 6 to create a signature for the community. 'From the sublime to the ridiculous, the sculptures or structures that serve as symbols of a place are powerful,' Esolen wrote in second part of his study. 'The Eiffel Tower, the gateway Arch in St. Louis, the statue of Christ on the mountain over the harbor at Rio de Janeiro and the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor are examples on a grand scale. On a smaller scale, the Friendship arch in Philadelphia's Chinatown and the Cadillac Ranch sculptures near Amarillo, Texas have become strong icons of place. So have the countless roadside attractions that have long charmed or amused American travelers: buildings that look like coffee pots or hot dogs or gigantic animals.' Esolen pointed out that in Meadville at the intersection of Rts. 102 and 322 are 11 large-scale abstract sculptures of flowers created from old road signs that 'leave an indelible impression of wit and creativity.' Esolen recommended that each community in the county - Youngsville, Warren, Sheffield, Sugar Grove, Russell and Tidioute - create its own celebratory entrance, designed by local artists.


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