And now for the post I originally planned for last week. Sometimes we take for granted that things will happen as they should. This we should know by now is not always the case. After much back and forth, and months of delays by Borough Council, things got a little too close for comfort last week as leaders awaited the ok to close Gay Street which never came. In the end, it required interventions from both Pennsylvania State Senator Carolyn Comitta and PA Rep Dianne Herrin to move the process through state bureaucracy – and one more day. But we got here. The Open-Air Market will return. Gay Street in downtown West Chester will close on Friday. 

So, what was the hold-up? 

Remember that little issue with who owns Gay Street the state or West Chester? Well, that was it. West Chester filed this winter to have the street transferred to borough jurisdiction which PennDot agreed to in principle but there has been much back and forth over the details leading to delays in getting the final approval. Fortunately, the borough pursued a parallel path, the same one that was taken over the last two years. And those approvals came through on Saturday.  

“As many of you saw in our recent post, the Borough of West Chester needed to get local control of Gay Street or get a special events application approved by PennDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in order to close the street for the Open-Air Market,” West Chester’s Business Improvement District shared on their social media channels on Saturday. “Thankfully, the Borough just got the green light on their special events application!”

Ok, now that that is settled – what’s new this year? 

The biggest change is timing. In previous iterations when Gay Street closed it was closed for the entirety of the summer. This year the start and end dates remain the same – Memorial Day, scratch date – June 3 to Labor Day – but the street will only be closed on weekends. The closure will start on Friday morning with the placement of the barricades by West Chester’s Public Works Department and end Monday morning when they are removed. 

The stone barriers are back but look for more of an effort to hide them behind some greenery.

Why the change? I liked the extended closure. 

You and most other residents but there were other considerations this year. First was PECO’s plan to dig up Market Street which could leave both main West Chester roads closed to traffic at the same time. While the roads do go in different directions, there were access concerns raised by West Chester’s police and fire departments. There was also a push by West Chester’s Borough Council to come up with a more permanent closure plan. One that takes into consideration long-term implications and perhaps involves some sort of feasibility study. A good idea that has yet to be initiated.

Ok, that was a big explanation any other changes I should be aware of? 

Not really. Perhaps the biggest change for residents outside of timing was the removal of COVID-19 restrictions. As you’ll recall these were central in the first couple of years of the Open-Air Market, but like most other outdoor venues, they have pretty much disappeared. The closure’s official rules and regulations, which were approved in May by borough council, include no mention of masking, distancing, or sanitizer stations.  The other changes affect businesses rather than residents. Things like when and where tables, chairs, and outdoor decor items are to be storied midweek.  

Unlike in previous years, there are no precautions in place against rising COVID-19 cases.

Great. When and where exactly does the street closure go into effect? 

The closure starts on Friday, June 3, as soon as Public Works can get those barriers set up. Gay Street will be closed to traffic from Matlack to Darlington Streets. While you can not drive down Gay Street, traffic can still cross from north to south (and vice versa). I would guess it will be mid-afternoon before the work is complete – at least that first week – but if true, that’s still plenty of time for happy hour. 

How long will it last?

The street will be closed every weekend from now until Labor Day (Sept. 5).

Speaking of Labor Day, what happens on holiday weekends? 

You get an extra day, yay. On Labor Day and Fourth of July, Gay Street will be closed from Friday to Tuesday morning. 

Anything else I should know? 

Just a reminder, all Open-Air Market Commerce must be concluded by 11 p.m. This includes on weekend nights, so if you are planning on a late-night, know you’ll have to bring your party inside. There will also reportedly be a greater focus on aesthetics this year which has been voiced by residents and businesses as an issue in the past. 

“PECO will be repaving the roadway in June which will greatly help the overall aesthetic,” said Business Improvement District Executive Director John O’Brian via email. In addition, he shared they are hoping to streamline signage and bring in more greenery to cover the barriers.  “But,” he said, “we will need to utilize the same concrete bin blocks,” Don’t expect big improvement until borough council comes up with a plan for long-term implementation.

The Future of Gay Street

The Gay Street closure returns Friday – but it’s just on weekends this year.

While this year was actually a reduction in hours from years past, most members of borough council support a full-time, seasonal closure of the street. However, moving to a more permanent annual closure is reliant on a couple of things:

Control over Gay Street. One of the biggest, annual hurdles to closing Gay Street has been PennDot. As a state road, West Chester must get permission to close Gay Street for any length of time. To bypass this in the future, West Chester has petitioned for control of the road. A proposition PennDot agreed to earlier this year. Since then the two entities have been going back and forth over format and language. Until the agreement is final it is unlikely formal measures to close the street will move forward. However, while this new agreement would let the borough close Gay Street at will, PennDot is requiring a stipulation that keeps West Chester from closing the road permanently.

Access for emergency, delivery purposes. Another concern is accessibility to the road while closed. The current barriers are not very pretty (they tried) and difficult and time-consuming to move. This makes it nearly impossible for vehicles to quickly access the street in an emergency. A long-term solution would almost certainly include some sort of removable bollard system, however, how this would be executed needs to be researched. There are significant amounts of wires and pipes under the street which would make it difficult to implement such a solution.

Long-term traffic patterns, parking and ADA access. I am lumping these all together because they are adjacently related. Closing the street eliminates parking revenue potential for the borough. It is estimated that 61 parking spots are lost during the closure. Permanent closure would mean a potential loss of $35,000 a week in revenue to the borough. That said, the borough is not currently at capacity parking levels in its parking garages and lots, so a lot of this revenue would just be shifted to other locations. The loss of spaces close to retail and restaurant locations remains a challenge for those with mobility issues.

To prepare for a long-term closure it has been suggested by Borough Council Michael Stefano that a committee is established to begin researching solutions to these problems as well as considering hiring an outside consultant to conduct a feasibility study. Neither of which has been initiated to date.

Gay Street Closure Visitor Rules

Tables can be in the street, but sidewalks must remain open.
  • The Open-Air Market will be operating starting Friday morning and concluding Monday morning. 
  • The Open-Air Market will occur from Friday to Tuesday morning on Memorial Day Weekend, July 4th Weekend, and Labor Day Weekend.  
  • All outdoor commerce must be concluded by 11 p.m. 
  • The sidewalk must be kept open to pedestrians. Per Borough Code, sidewalks are to be unobstructed for 54 inches off of the building. This includes, but is not limited to, tables, chairs, and server stations. 
  • Stores and restaurants are required to maintain a litter-free area outside their place of business at all times. This includes in the street.  
  • Smoking while seated at a bar or restaurant is prohibited.

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