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West Chester Weekly News Roundup: June 24, 2022

Summer starts in West Chester.

The easiest way to be in the know.

It’s Friday, June 24. Pickney Hill Commons at the Melton Center opened this week to tears of joy but sadly, only a small percentage of applicants had their prayers answered. Plus, the BID shares its plans for keeping visitors coming downtown – and what we know about what’s planned for the old K-Mart building. It’s official. Summer is here. Grab your seasonal drink of choice – and let’s catch up. 

“People that could no longer afford the rent in West Chester are coming back.”

Tracy Patches, Church Housing Group Director of Development

Melton Center housing update

Move-in ready: Some residents have already started moving in with more expected July 1 and August 1.

If you peer out the end unit of the new Pickney Hill Commons apartment building you can clearly see the Melton Center basketball courts. This fact was not lost on the unit’s future 14-year-old tenant who already has plans to set up in front of that window and wait for a pickup game to emerge. After nearly four years of planning, fundraising, and construction delays, first by pandemic shutdowns and later by supply chain issues, the new 51-unit development welcomed its first residents this week.

“We are proud,” said Tracy Patches, Director of Development for the Church Housing Group, the nonprofit overseeing the construction and running of the complex. “We are changing people’s lives.” 

Sometimes such a line can come off as trite – too often thrown around for a whole manner of unworthy things, but not when Tracy said it. This development, which is not low-income but does rent below market rate, is making it possible for many longtime residents to return to the borough. 

“We can accept from anywhere,” said Tracy, “but most of [the applicants] came from West Chester. They could no longer afford the rent and were pushed out. Now they are coming back home to West Chester.”

The development is split between two units. One features 3- and 4-bedroom townhomes and the other a mix of 1-, 2-, 3- and 4-bedroom apartments. Part of a multi-partner collaboration including the Melton Center, Church Housing Corp, Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, and the NRP Group, Pickney Hill was built using a federal tax credit system. I won’t go into too much detail, but suffice to say it allows construction to be financed below market value with the understanding that these savings will be passed on to renters. By law, the units must rent below-market rate for the next 35 years. Tracy said they are committed to making it longer than that.    

To rent here you must income qualify which requires a pre-application process and eligibility verification period. When Church Housing Corp opened the pre-application process this winter they were flooded with applicants. 

“We have a total of 51 units and we received over 600 applications,” said Tracy. Like many government programs, there seem to be a lot of rules. Some units rent farther below market value than others meaning different income requirements apply. Some units are handicap accessible and must rent to handicapped residents. Which is to say, some units went a little quicker than others, but all have been popular. All have been rented. 

“There is a need across the board. People just need a little break on their housing to stay and work in a community,” said Tracy. It’s an amazing start, but for West Chester, it’s just a start. “We just can’t accommodate everybody. We are working on it.” 

If you are interested in a unit, Church Housing is accepting names for a waitlist. Just know some lists are much longer than others, and none are really short at this time.

A year in review – Downtown Business version

West Chester joined World Music Day for the first time on Tuesday.

2021 was supposed to be the year the economy recovered but for some retailers and restaurants emerging COVID variants and continuing uncertainty meant it wasn’t. According to the West Chester Business Improvement District’s annual report, just under 30 percent of businesses surveyed reported that sales were still below 2019. Other indicators, however, show positive progress. In 2021 nearly double the number of businesses opened than closed (17 to 9). Vacancy rates dropped from nine to six percent, the lowest they’ve been in two years, and events began to return to the borough.

Despite the progress, there seemed little interest in dwelling on the past.

New plants along the back wall of the Chestnut Street Garage are designed to attract visitors – winged and non-winged – to downtown West Chester.

The BID’s 2022 game plan

  1. Return the event. This started with baby steps last year and looks to continue. We’ve already seen the return of the Spring Gallery Walk and the Gay Street Open Air Market, the introduction of West Chester Restaurant Week this winter, and a new happy hour event this spring. This week brought Fete de Musique and coming in late July, Yoga in Gay Street. Then this fall/winter the Christmas parade returns and so do the lights. I believe the term “Longwood-esque,” was used.
  2. Keep your best face forward. “One of the important factors for customers coming here is that they see a clean town,” BID Executive Director John O’Brien shared with Borough Council. To do this the BID has been leveraging community service hours issued by District Judge Marian Vito. With the additional help, the BID has been able to collect trash and wash benches along High, Walnut, Matlack, Chestnut, Gay, and Market Streets multiple times a week. The initiative goes beyond the BID’s borders to make sure the town as a whole stays clean. In addition to cleaning, the BID with help from the West Chester Green Team recently cleared out and replanted the area behind the Chestnut Street garage with a native pollinator garden.  
  3. Praise the community. When recruiting new businesses John shared that he lauds not only the region’s demographics and location but also its community. “We have a community that wants to see [businesses] supported. Here in West Chester people know your name and they want to see you succeed,” he told borough council. That support is critical if the downtown business district is to continue to grow. 

Despite the optimism (nearly 80 percent of respondents said they felt good coming into the year), 2022 is not likely to be all sunshine and rainbows. Inflation and supply chain kinks continue to wreak havoc – John reported some restaurants had to remove menu items because costs exceeded what someone could reasonably be expected to pay – as does employment. If you flip that, means there are plenty of jobs to be had at competitive wages and flexible hours. “This is the year to be a teenage employee,” said John.  

Tearing down and building up in West Goshen

Things may be happening at the West Goshen Shopping Center.

“I still have difficulty thinking of the borough and West Goshen township as two distinct places. Feels like we should be one,” wrote West Goshen Sunshine in her email before setting me straight on several developments happening basically to all of us.* 

This week demolition began on the Spellman Building on Paoli Pike. Once home to the school district administrative offices, then for a short while the borough administrative offices, it is now tumbling down. In its place, an Aldi’s market, a Popeye’s restaurant, and a third – yet to be disclosed – business.

Also, happening in West Goshen, West Goshen Supervisors reviewed a preliminary Zoning Hearing application this week for the West Goshen Shopping Center. The multi-part redevelopment request includes expanding the area once occupied by K-mart, improving the parking area, and adding a new freestanding 6750 sq. ft. fast food restaurant just west of the PennDOT Ride and Share lot. No word yet on what that restaurant could be, but if wishful thinking changes anything, it will be a Chic-Fil-A. 

*Except when it comes to summer camp, then your borough address brings no love and a price increase. If you live in West Goshen and are not already following West Goshen Sunshine, you should.

***This is a sponsored post***

What’s for Lunch? Kildare’s Irish Pub

The Rueben on rye from Kildare’s.

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, Kildare’s. 

If you don’t have an afternoon to kill, lunch can be a perilous decision – do you try to squeeze in a sit-down meal or just grab something quick? At Kildare’s head chef, Stephanie Gray wants you to be able to do both.

“My menu items aren’t too complicated,” says Stephanie who consciously keeps her lunch menus simple so you have time for a nice sit-down lunch. So what to get?

At this traditional Irish pub try the Reuben on rye, suggests Stephanie. “We make the corned beef in-house,” she says. Then she tops it with swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and homemade Marie Rose dressing. Want something a little lighter? The spicy Chipotle Chicken Rice Bowl with pineapple vinaigrette has been a new favorite.  

“​Can’t tell all of the secrets but I try to make things a little different,” says Stephanie about her pineapple vinaigrette but the same goes for everything on the menu from the burgers to the fish. Want to know another secret? “We make everything from scratch. That is probably a big surprise for people. This is not ‘bar food,’” she says.

A quality, homemade meal kept to the confines of the lunch hour – how can you beat that? A Guinness, you say. I won’t tell if you won’t. 

This is a sponsored post. Thank you to Kildare’s for their support of Hello, West Chester! If you are in town this weekend, stop by and give their lunch menu a try.

***

The warnings.

What you are about to read is disturbing. A preliminary hearing was held this week in a sexual assault case involving two West Chester University students. The incident occurred last winter and involved multiple sexual attacks including at a Phi Kappa Alpha fraternity party and again at the defendant’s apartment. “I did not know what would happen if I tried to run,” the victim reportedly told Judge Marian Vito. “Would he try to hurt me? He had been so aggressive before. I didn’t know what was best to do.” She was eventually rescued from the situation after her friends arrived at defendant Dylan Michael Strunk’s apartment with the cops. The case will now go to trial.

Look both ways before you cross the street. West Chester police shared a timely reminder this week asking drivers to keep an eye out for children playing outside during the day – and parents to make sure kids of all ages know the proper way to cross the street, ride a bike safely, and remain aware of their surroundings. I know around here the popularity of the new Everhart Park playground has led to some heart-stopping moments as kids pop out from between the cars lined up along the edge of Union Street. 

The Accolades

Cheers to three years! (P.S. If I put the drink in the newsletter, can I write it off as a business expense?)

Congratulations to Gryphon Cafe, which celebrated three years in the borough this week. Not an easy three years I am sure, but I am proud to say I have done my part to keep them going. 

“Thank you to all of our incredible customers for getting us to this point!” they posted on social but pretty sure that was meant for me. 

Also a round of applause to us! With cased now around 122 per 100,000 and new hospitalizations under ten last week, Chester County is once again in the COVID-19 low-risk level. What that actually means can be found here

High-fives to West Chester-native Nick Luukko who recently locked in the head coaching position for the Jacksonville Icemen, a minor league ice hockey team. Nick secured the contract extension after helping lead the Icemen to a franchise-high 40 wins during his first year as coach.   

Finally shout out to Good, Bad, and Ugly’s Tap Fries which were recently selected by Tasting Table as among the best in the country. Who knew? The decadent potatoes are fried golden brown and topped with smoked brisket, beer cheese, and cheese curds – which according to the digital publication make them “the ultimate booze-friendly bar snack.” I’m going to go out on a limb and say, that was by design.  

Hello. 

The Church Street Market House on N. Church Street.

Say hello to a new co-working space. The Church Street Market House which began marketing its downtown office solutions four months ago held its first official event this week. Located on N. Church Street, they rent not only building access but also furnished personal and company office space (with doors). With the addition of Church Street Market House, this marks by my count three co-working ventures in the borough. 

Also, say hello to a new hospital or at least the return of one. The Daily Local reported last week that Wilmington-based ChristianaCare will purchase and reopen Jennersville Hospital. The closing of Jennersville and Brandywine hospitals at the beginning of the year has put a strain on Chester County Hospital emergency services leading the longer ER wait times. Hopefully, this will help elevate some of that additional stress. The closing is expected sometime in the next 30 to 60 days. There is no timeframe for reopening yet.  

Finally, say hello to a collaboration of among life’s greatest things, Dia Doce cupcakes and gelato.

Goodbye.

Rainbow love on Barnard Street.

Say goodbye to a quiet Pride Month in West Chester. There were a couple of small rallies at the courthouse but no parades despite our aptly named Gay Street, and not even an organized display of support as there was last year. There were, however, a couple of small overtures noted. West Chester-based Qurate Group (home to QVC, HSN, and Zuilly) made it a priority to elevate and highlight LGBTQ+-owned businesses during the month and the borough added a Rainbow flag to the list of flags that line the flag pole behind Borough Hall.  

“You think things are getting better but the attacks on the LGBTQ community just continue,” said Borough Council President Mike Stefano last week as he encouraged continued support of this community. 

Finally say goodbye, to Sgt. Ryan Collins. After serving 28 years with the West Chester Borough Police Department, officer Collins who leads the detective unit is retiring. His last day will be July 6. A heartfelt thanks to Sgt. Collins for his years of service.

With Sgt. Collins’ retirement the department will once again be down four officers. On a positive note, Chief James Morehead shared earlier this month, that 41 candidates passed the written and physical agility portion of this spring’s recruitment initiative and have moved on to the next phase. 

Pay it forward.

Photo: Chester County Hospital Foundation, 2019 Challenge for Cancer.

Put your running shoes away and grab your bike, the 23rd annual Cancer Bike Tour of Chester County is planned for this Sunday. Choose from 5 to 10-mile family rides all the way up to 100-mile course options and explore the county in the comfort of a group. All proceeds go to helping patients living with cancer in Chester County.  

“As we come together to celebrate this big milestone, we are aiming to have the most successful Challenge for Cancer Bike Tour yet,” event sponsor Brandywine Valley Heating & Air Conditioning wrote on the event page. 

If you would like to help make that happen, registration is still open. Bikers should meet at the Fern Hill Medical Campus at 7 a.m. to register. Rides begin at 7:30 a.m.

The freakin’ weekend. 

Flowers for sale. Fresh flowers for sale.

What are you up to this weekend? I am meeting my sister in Charleston, WV – midway from Indiana – for an impromptu girls’ weekend. Hopefully, a couple days of hiking and relaxing dinners will return a mom who screams much less.  

If you are hanging around here, Sts. Simon and Jude Parish is holding a welcome home celebration for veterans returning from D.C. on Saturday. Meet at the church at 6:15 if you want to help with the celebration. Also on Saturday is East Goshen Township’s Community Day and Fireworks Show. Yes, this is a little outside my usual parameters but since West Chester has no firework options, I decided to make an exception.

Plus, crabs, more crabs, and summer cupcakes.

Mark your calendars:

That’s it. Stay safe, stay healthy and have a happy Fourth of July. I’ll see you in two weeks! 

Oh, one more thing, if you think one or more of your friends would like Hello, West Chester, too, please forward this newsletter and tell them to come and join us. 

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