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It’s Friday, June 17. Chugga, chugga, choo choo. This week has West Chester finally found a way to return commuter rail service to the borough? The new solution, which is just 64-minutes to Center City and 4 percent of the implementation cost of the last version, shows real promise. Plus, the borough introduces a new responsible contractor ordinance, shocking news out of Levante, and a video that promises to make you smile. Who’s ready? Let’s catch up.
The Borough’s new rail solution. It’s electric.
This week West Chester’s tenacious Committee to Reestablish Rail was back in front of Borough Council with a solution, that for maybe the first time in this long-running pipe dream, sounds like something feasible.
To get you up to speed, over the past eight years the committee has been working tirelessly to develop a plan and support for bringing back commuter rail service to West Chester. Their latest effort, an economic and equity study, showed the project not only had the potential to raise property values but that those properties disproportionately fell in areas with higher poverty rates and greater ethnic populations. Promising and popular stuff that always seems to get snagged in the same spots – the estimated $380M price tag to restore the service and a SEPTA’s seeming lack of interest in making such an investment.
So what’s the new plan? The rail committee is calling it the West Chester Metro plan and it relies on electric commuter cars to shuttle riders from West Chester to the Wawa station. From there, riders will connect to Philadelphia’s Regional Rail system and continue on their merry way.
That sound awfully familiar. What’s different this time? A few things.
- The execution – The new West Chester Metro will be able to carry 190 passengers and their luggage to Center City in a very competitive 64 minutes.
- The technology – The electric cars are zero emissions, utilize the existing tracks, and can be leased from the Railroad Development Corporation. Plus, the Metro will be able to use existing platforms and parking areas (with a few modifications).
- The cost – the new proposal relies on an incremental approach to development and can be executed for $16.4 million or roughly 4 percent of the costs of the full-build approach first presented.
When you look at the way SEPTA had planned to rebuild the rail line the cost makes sense Rail Commission member Tom Hickey explained to borough council members. “$380M is not a surprising number,” Mr. Hickey said, “but it is still a shocking figure.”
I’m getting excited.
Much more promising I agree, but there are still several big questions that need to be answered before we can ditch the cars and head to Philly by train. Those include:
- Who will operate the shuttle once it is built? – either SEPTA or TMACC (Transit Management of Chester County) look like potential contenders. Note: It will not be the borough.
- How much will annual operations cost? Current estimates vary widely from $17K to $824K. Regardless of final costs, it will not be picked up by the borough.
- How will capital expenses be addressed? Still TBD. The Committee is hoping at least some of this will come from grants but there is still a lot of work to be done in this regard.
So, what’s next? This week borough council showed its informal support for the new direction. Look for a more formal vote next month at which time the Rail Restoration Committee will move toward scoping a business plan and building support for the project throughout the county and the region.
After years of wishful thinking, it sounds like the ground under a West Chester rail line is starting to firm up. Here is the full presentation for those who are interested.
Responsible contractor ordinance
After years of starts and stops, this week Borough Council passed the Responsible Contractor Ordinance to add formal oversight to public projects. The requirements under the new ordinance are a lot of things you would hope were happening anyway. Things like employing formally trained employees, paying appropriate wages and benefits, carrying necessary insurance, and notifying the borough of any suspensions or other sanctions against their business.
However, there were two points of potential contention:
- The apprenticeship requirement. Under the new ordinance, firms must participate in a Department of Labor-approved apprenticeship program for each trade it employs.
- Limited contractor pool. Small local contractors may not be able to complete or certify to all listed requirements.
To overcome to latter, the new ordinance only applies to Public Works contracts over $250,000. At that threshold, only a small percentage of borough projects would be affected and these are almost exclusively handled by large firms anyway. Still the results of a (very) small survey conducted by Borough Manager Sean Metrick showed that the ordinance could limit the available contractor pool. Two of the four contractors recently used on projects of this size indicated that they would not have bid on the project if the ordinance was in place. This exodus of competition leaves the potential for price increases. Still, advocates believe the ordinance will prove beneficial in the long run. State Senator Carolyn Comitta made a guest appearance at the hearing to advocate for its passing.
“The Responsible Contractor Ordinance is a matter of protecting our constituents and ourselves by ensuring that contractors and others engaged in public work can complete their jobs safely, efficiently, effectively, ethically, on time, and on budget,” she said.
Despite some initial hesitation, the ordinance passed 7-0. You can find the gripping formal ordinance here.
Juneteenth in the West Chester turns two
Last year, nearly 155 years after the original Juneteenth celebrations took place in Galveston, Texas, West Chester (and much of the rest of the country) decided it was time to join in. The Melton Center took on the momentousness of the occasion with a series of ceremonial activities – a flag raising, a moment of silence, a dedication, and an essay contest. This year they are hoping for a more jubilant vibe with a DJ, dancers, speakers, and a business fair with many local black-owned businesses represented.
“This year we are focusing even more on the celebration aspect, the great music, and the local vendors. We really want a festival feel,” said Jennifer Johnson, Melton Center Board Member and one of the event’s organizers.
“We want to bring people together for fellowship and fun. It’s a chance to meet new people, see and experience new vendors, listen to great music, and have a great time,” said Jennifer.
Festivities begin at noon on Saturday, June 18 at the Melton Center. As of now, the weather looks gorgeous but if it doesn’t cooperate there are plans to move it inside.
There are additional Juneteenth Events planned at the Chester County History Center including a conversation with former West Chester NAACP Chair Reverand Anderson Porter and a children’s program with children’s book author Nahjee Grant – both planned for Saturday and both free. Registration, however, is required.
What’s for lunch? Saloon 151
In response to a request for more restaurant content, I am launching a new summer feature asking some of the borough’s chefs, restaurant owners, and workers what they would order for lunch and why. This week, Saloon 151 shares.
You may know them for their wings (for something a little different give the house-smoked version a try), but Saloon 151 Manager Jill Lindenhofen says don’t overlook the tacos. “Believe it or not, our tacos are always a crowd favorite,” she shares. “Served with your choice of protein and piled high with cheese, chipotle ranch, lettuce, and our homemade pico de gallo these go perfectly with a sunny summer day.”
And when she says choice of protein, she means choice of protein. You have your staples – beef, chicken, and pork – but you can also choose from avocado, brisket, steak, shrimp, mahi, or scallops. For a lighter option, she suggests the Street-style tacos which hold the cheese, and ranch in favor of diced onion, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime. Both come fresh, made-to-order, with a side of house salsa verde.
Washed down with what else? “Whiskey, whiskey, whiskey,” says Jill. I’m eyeing the Strawberry Whiskey Smash myself (even as a mocktail, it sounds delicious) – but don’t worry if whiskey’s not your thing. There are over 50 craft beer drafts to choose from.
Want to hear something even better? Saloon 151 is participating in downtown West Chester’s TAPS Happy Hour every Wednesday this summer from 5 to 7 p.m. which also happens to be half-price taco night. So while 5 p.m. may be a little late for lunch, it’s a great way to end a summer day.
This is a sponsored post. Thanks to Saloon 151 for their support of Hello, West Chester!
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Try not to smile. Normally this section is reserved for people behaving badly but there were so few this week, that I decided to pre-empt today’s coverage with someone committed to making it a good day.
The sinkholes are real. Last week one shut down N. New Street. Now another sinkhole is reportedly forming in the area of Walnut and Linden Street. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection sink holes are caused by weathering or water dissolving “minerals in the rock, leaving residue and open spaces within the rock.” This weathering is often exacerbated by extremes in precipitation – sounding familiar? I am guessing, those sudden downpours have not been helping the situation.
Rehab is meant for the duration. In sad news this week, there are reports that West Chester-native Bam Margera has gone missing after leaving a rehab facility in Florida.
Gold star to West Chester University on earning a silver STAR in sustainability. WCU was recently recognized by the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) for its efforts to measure and encourage “sustainability in all educational and operational aspects of higher education.” The Golden Rams started their sustainability journey in 2012 as a “reporter,” upped that to “bronze” in 2018 and “silver” in 2020 and again this year. Read more about their sustainability initiatives here.
Congratulations to former West Chester Mayor Clifford DeBaptiste, 98, on receiving a doctorate in Humane Letters. This week West Chester’s first black mayor was recognized for his philanthropic work with an honorary degree from Lincoln University (he already holds a Master’s degree from there). Lincoln is one of two historically black colleges and universities in Pennsylvania. Dr. DeBaptiste served as West Chester mayor from 1994 to 2002 and inspired his daughter, current Mayor Lillian DeBaptiste, to do the same.
Finally high-fives to Yori’s Bakery on ten years in the borough. They are celebrating for ten straight days with a new giveaway each day. Follow them on social for all the delicious details.
Get ready to say hello to a plan to get a plan to close Gay Street for good (not forever, but hopefully for every summer). This week Borough Council gave their ok to contract with Traffic Planning and Design to begin researching and developing a working plan for a long-term closure.
The consultants will have 6-months to complete the work and have been asked to envision two scenarios. One where the road is closed part-time (Friday-Monday) and one where it is closed 7-days a week.
They’ve also been asked to consider and plan for:
- zones for in-street activities, pedestrian circulation, and access for disabled persons;
- business operations, trash management, and delivery logistics;
- traffic management and protection at block ends;
- Police and Emergency Service requirements
To do this they will be meeting with borough staff, public works, EMS, police, Business Improvement District reps, and elected officials; and hosting two community workshops. The first of which will be a community listening session planned for July. The second is a draft plan review scheduled for September. If all goes as planned, final recommendations will be made to Borough Council in November.
Plan development is estimated at $33K and will be paid with American Rescue Plan money.
Also, mark the calendar for December 2 and tell the kids, it’s official. Santa is coming back via parade. The Greater West Chester Chamber of Commerce confirmed this week the West Chester Christmas Parade will be back after a three-year hiatus. Chamber president Katie Walker voiced concerns earlier this year about the organization’s ability to pull together the pricey and complicated event after title sponsor QVC stepped away. The group has since received a significant fee reduction from the borough and feedback from a lot of individuals interested in participating, so, the show is on.
“We have already received high interest and urge those individuals, groups, or organizations that would like to participate to apply as soon as possible,” Katie stated in a release issued by the group this week.
Interest has been so great, that organizers warn float spaces, which are being limited this year, could fill up before the August 1 deadline. If would like to participate or volunteer, you can learn more here.
Fun fact: Tree House World will be designing Santa’s float this year. Kerri Kita, Operations Manager for Treehouse World Adventure Park teased, “Let’s just say it’s sure to be the most adventurous float that Santa Claus has ever enjoyed.”
Ok, are you ready for this? Say hello, to another bubble tea shop! It’s OneZo, a Taiwenize shop that is credited as the first cafe in the world to make its own boba, or “bubbles” in-store. “Our goals are to serve the freshest boba drinks to the world [and] to use our creativity to develop more new boba flavors,” brand rep Eddie Tong shared via email. OneZo is coming to the Gay Street Plaza near Gramm’s Kitchen. It is hoping to open by the end of July.
Last week, I shared my admittedly less-than-enthusiastic response to learning a new bubble tea shop was opening at the corner of Gay and High Streets (two doors down from Tsoaaca tea.) So this week I thought I would share a counter viewpoint I received from reader Ellen Chandler.
“Regarding the Bubble Tea Shop taking over the corner store. Maybe we should just look at it as two coffee shops opening next to each other? As you probably know, bubble tea is large spherical tapioca in pretty much any type of tea you want. It is usually sweetened and can be had with milk in it. They have a lot of bubble tea shops in NYC. I personally like it and it is popular with all the students/kids. I think it is great that they are taking over the corner shop as it looks sad empty.”
I am still not entirely convinced but I am warming to the idea.
Get ready to say, goodbye to the abandoned Poly Clean Laundromat on Hannum Avenue. This week Borough Council signed off on plans to build a new 6000 sq ft office building at that same location. The modern 1-story building with a freshly landscaped lot, new sidewalk, and enhanced streetscape will be the eventual home of West Chester Orthodontics and a continued improvement to the western entrance of the borough.
Also in rather shocking news, this week Levante Brewing announced it is walking away from Levante Stables, its indoor/outdoor beer garden in Chester Springs. According to a post on their Facebook page, the move was precipitated by disagreement with the location’s owners.
“The intention for Levante Stables was always to be a long-term home for us; however, we’ve been unable to reach an agreement on our lease. Our last day of business… will be Sunday, June 26, 2022,” the post reads.
I see you hiding that smile. Don’t think I don’t know you’re just a little bit glad to have the popular craft brewers back to ourselves, but it won’t be long. New locations are coming. “The next one might be closer than you think,” the post teased. I’m hoping it’s physically closer too.
Pay it forward.
This spring parents, students, and teachers at Hillsdale elementary school came together to erect eight garden beds on the backside of the property. The beds were then planted with a variety of herbs and vegetables at a school-wide event in April and have since been tended by a dedicated group of parent and student volunteers.
Last week marked the last of the school-year harvests (although more plants are planned for summer beds) and drum roll, please…
“The last week of school we were able to get more than 30 students into the garden to harvest, taste, and “feed the bunnies” (throw the weeds and stems/roots of the broccoli and cabbage into the woods),” parent volunteer and one of the project leaders Sarah Getz reported. “We are currently up to 195 lb(!) of produce donated to the Chester County Food Bank.”
Editor’s note: I added that much-deserved exclamation point. Over the seven-week project, the students (with help) have harvested cabbage, red and golden beets, kale, spinach, broccoli, scallions, cilantro, and parsley much of which were donated to the food bank as part of a joint venture. Chester County Food Bank provided the seedlings, Hillsdale families provided the beds and labor and together they are splitting the fruits and veggies of their labors 30/70.
If any other schools are interested in tackling their own raised bed gardens, I am sure the Hillsdale Garden Committee would be happy to share their lessons learned.
Sometimes that dollar, just won’t stretch any further. According to Consumer Price Index data for the Philadelphia region, food prices in the region have risen 9.5 percent over the last year. The increase is even greater for the typically more economical “food at home” which is up a whopping 12.5 percent. Which is all to say, it’s a lot.
To help, West Chester Food Cupboard is offering two weeks of free groceries for eligible families. They have also announced they have updated their income guidelines. Under the new guidance, a family of four can make up to $51,000 and still qualify for assistance. Learn more here.
The freakin’ weekend.
What are you up to this weekend? We are attempting a family trip to Hershey Park. The weather looks wonderful. Now, fingers crossed the kids behave the same!
If you are around this weekend, East Goshen showing Encanto in the park on Saturday. Tish is having a big summer sale. Still, looking for Father’s Day ideas? Thistle Be Perfect has the perfect gift idea for the bearded man in your life. These West Chester whiskey glasses are cool and Levante is hosting a Father’s Day Cornhole tournament. Buy a round or two and everyone will be happy.
Also, don’t forget next Tuesday marks the start of summer and the inauguration of the Borough’s latest event: Fete De La Musique. Again with the musicians, only this time they will be stationed downtown. Twenty musicians are scheduled at 12 different locations on Market, Gay, Church, and High Streets. There are a couple of early afternoon acts but the bulk of the performers are scheduled from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Follow Downtown West Chester on social for a complete list of acts and times.
Mark your calendars:
- June 18 – West Chester Juneteenth Festival, Melton Center, 12 – 4 p.m. Music, speakers, performers, and wares by local black-owned businesses.
- June 18 – Movie in the Park – Encanto, East Goshen Park, 8:30 p.m. Admission, popcorn, and drinks are free. Movie starts at 9 p.m.
- June 18 – A Celebration of Freedom, Chester County History Center, 1 – 3 p.m. Storytime and craft event for kids with children’s book author Nahjee Grant. This is a free event but registration is required.
- June 18 – A Lifetime of Service, a Conversation with Rev. Anderson Porter, 6:30 – 8 p.m. This is a free event but registration is required.
- June 18 – Taylor Run Cleanup, 415 W. Washington St., 9-11 a.m.
- June 19 – Father’s Day Cornhole Tournament, Levante Tap Room, 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
- June 20 – Belfast, Uptown Theater, 7:00 p.m.$5/Monday Night Movie
- June 21 – Fete de la Musique, Downtown West Chester, 12 – 9 p.m. Enjoy free live music throughout the downtown area.
- June 22 – Ocean’s of Possibilities with the Center for Aquatic Sciences, West Chester Public Library, 12 – 12:45 p.m. This event is free. Registration opens June 15.
- June 22 – Virtual Family Trivia Night, West Chester Public Library, 6-7 p.m. This event is free. Registration opens June 15.
- June 25 – “Tour of Honor” Return celebration, Sts. Simon and Jude Parish, 6:15 p.m.; Help welcome home 141 West Chester area veterans from their day of honor in Washington D.C. Veterans expected around 6:15. Come early for music and fun.
- June 25 – Live at the Fillmore: Allman Brothers tribute band, Uptown Theater, 7:30 p.m.
- June 25 – EGT Community Day and Fireworks show, East Goshen Park, 5 -9 p.m., children’s activities, food trucks, music and more
- June 25 – FamilyFest, American Helicopter Museum, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tickets $15/adults, $10/kids, helicopter rides will be available for $75.
- June 25 – Watercolor Pet Portrait Class, Pine & Quill, 11 a.m.- 1 p.m. $70/for the session
- June 27 –Meatballs, Uptown Theater, 7:00 p.m.$5/Monday Night Movie
- June 29 – Kids Robotics Expo, West Chester Public Library, 1 – 2:30 p.m. Open to kids 5 – 13, Registration is required and opens June 22.
- June 30 – Concert in the Park, Hoopes Park, 6:30 p.m.
That’s it. Stay safe, stay healthy, and happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there. I’ll see you next week!
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