Congratulations to our own BAS alumni board member, Bryce Connors who made the news today which you can read at this Herald Standard link: BARC Director. If you cannot link to the paper, this is the complete article.
Bryce Connors, the new executive director of the Brownsville Area Redevelopment Corp. (BARC), discusses plans for revitalizing downtown Brownsville as he stands on Dunlap Bridge, the first cast-iron bridge in North America.
By Erin Hayes For the Herald-Standard Herald-Standard BROWNSVILLE — Being a whitewater river guide requires an adventurous spirit and a certain mindset — one that is ready to take on new challenges while assuming the responsibility of leading others with similar aspirations through turbulent, yet invigorating, waters to safely reach a desired destination. And being willing to walk away from a decent-paying career in fraud investigation to find your true calling in serving others requires an altruistic nature and confidence in oneself that can be hard to find. Yet, that is exactly who 27-year-old Bryce Connors is and exactly what he did. And that is the spirit and mindset the self-described “river man” brings with him as the new executive director of the Brownsville Area Revitalization Corp. (BARC), a nonprofit organization with an ambitious mission statement of bringing life back to a once-thriving community whose downtown is now selected by movie scouts seeking a dilapidated, ghost-town atmosphere.
Of more than 20 applicants for the position, Connors is exactly what BARC was looking for in its six-month quest to find just the right person for the job, said Tami Sealy, president of BARC’s board of directors. “He’s a hometown, young man, born and raised in the area who’s demonstrated civic-mindedness, most notably with the Brownsville Rotary Club,” Sealy said. “He has the enthusiasm to take us to the next level. Youth always brings new perspective,” she added, noting that Connors is the youngest executive director in the organization’s 25-year history. “I’m up to the challenge. I really am. It’s intimidating at times,” he said of the task, “but I’m from a long line of coal miners. We’re a fearless people, and I think a lot of people in Brownsville can say that.”
While not officially on the payroll until Jan. 1, Connors said he showed up at BARC two weeks early — the day after learning that he had been hired for the position — to “rip through everything” he could learn from. “I was enthusiastic when I came in, but I was really pleased when I started assessing things. I didn’t realize how much potential we had. It’s going to be a good town — there’s no doubt about it. It’s going to be a good town to be in and raise a family in,” said Connors, a 2009 graduate of Temple University, with majors in criminal justice and political science and a minor in economics.
At a Greater Brownsville Area Chamber of Commerce meeting last week, Connors said that BARC would be restructuring and moving away from a focus on tourism. “Our mission statement has gotten very broad, and the best way to move forward is to stay focused,” Connors said. “We’ve stretched ourselves a little thin. We want to show the town progress and not worry so much about the things we can’t control. Tourism is still going to play a part, but it is a supplemental part of the real plan here. It’s not enough to drive our entire economy.”
Connors said that several factors have contributed to the demise of Brownsville, including the town “being held hostage” by investor Ernest Liggett, who bought up many properties and then allowed them to slowly decay. Nothing could be done to prevent the decay while those properties remained in his name. “Some thought we were going to get the Liggett properties on Tuesday, and the next day was going to be all puppies and rainbows,” Connors said of the growing impatience of those who have pushed for something to be done since the Fayette County Redevelopment Authority took possession of the properties by right of eminent domain a few years ago.
Connors credits many entities, including borough council, the Rotary Club and Brownsville Area High School Students in Action for progress already made, but he added that opportunities may have been missed in the past because of a lack of cohesion and communication. “We all have the same goal,” Connors said, “and BARC is in the perfect position to make things happen. We’re fundraisers, we can find grants — that’s what we’re good at,” Connors said of BARC’s role in reviving the town, adding that many projects have been started and that BARC is there to “polish them financially. Everything takes money, and grant money comes in phases.”
And just as a good river guide must “read” the waters as opposed to simply memorizing the rapids, the task of revitalizing Brownsville will take an understanding of the shifting market and what drives the economy — and no one understands those factors better than some of the members of the chamber of commerce, Connors said. One of the biggest challenges Brownsville faces as a community is attitude, Connors said. Most young people cannot wait to graduate and move away from the area, and the community has allowed many of its best and brightest to slip away.
“We want to create an environment where people want to stay in the area, and the last few decades have failed. [Revitalizing Brownsville] will be easy if we make it easy because all the resources we need to make this work are here already,” Connors said. “Everybody plays a role in this. We have to work together. “I am doing what I truly want to do,” Connors added of his new career pick. “I would like to stay with BARC until there is no need for the organization anymore. But, in reality, it’s going to be a long process.”