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West Chester Weekly News Roundup

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It’s Friday, July 22. After making major cuts to the Park and Rec budget, there were some concerns about how the borough would respond now that people are looking to gather again but this summer has been a pleasant surprise with a nice mix of signature and lowkey events. See how they pulled it off and what else is planned. Plus, do you want to preserve the past or push into the future? The West Chester Railroad forces Borough Council to make a decision and West Chester’s first Doggie menu. It’s hot out there my friends. Grab something cool and let’s catch up.

“It’s been wonderful.”

West Chester Borough Council Member Shelia Vaccaro on summer in the Borough

Surprise! Summer’s been fun

A series of small events are having a big impact across the borough.

Last year, we lamented the end of the borough event. Sure there was COVID, but even before that, the Borough of West Chester had slowly begun pulling out of the events business peaking in 2017 with 10 events then slowly canceling them one by one. Only four named events were budgeted for 2022 and not all will be executed. (Touch of Truck was recently canceled. Instead, the borough is going to combine the event with West Chester Police’s popular Night Out Against Crime.) 

Fortunately – and perhaps, somewhat surprisingly considering all the cuts – it has not felt like an eventless summer. On the contrary, it’s been a summer of fun and community around the borough. 

“It’s been wonderful,” said Borough Councilwoman Sheila Vaccaro of this summer’s events. “I want to continue to see it grow.”

So how exactly is the borough getting away with this? There seem to be a few reasons. 

  1. Bigger impact from the events that do remain. One of the most visible (and long overdue) changes was moving the Turkshead Music Festival from its purgatory on the hottest weekend of the summer to the first weekend in June. A gorgeous weekend was rewarded with higher-than-expected attendance. Another promising change is the combination of Touch of Truck and Night Out Against Crime. While I hate to lose any event, these both take place in August, and both target the borough’s younger set with the promise to tour large, well-equipped vehicles that light up and make loud noises. I am just hoping any money saved can be reinvested in the department.    
  2. Doing more with less. The Parks Department has seemingly embraced the idea that not everything has to (or can be) be a production. Starting last year the Department quietly (I very much mean this literally, the department needs to work on its communication) introduced small-scale events like movies in the parks and concerts in the parks. Not a full production, just a single band or a projector and maybe, a food truck. Last year, these events were hit or miss but Park & Rec Director Keith Kurowski remained undeterred and the department not only brought them back but expanded them adding a theater in the park event (Know nothing about this? See above. Want details? See below). Success still varies with the midsummer weather but on the whole, events have been well attended especially for their scale and budget. For reference, the Hoopes Park concert was reportedly attended by 350-500 people. The total budget for the five what the borough calls “pop-up” events is $3500. 
  3. Others stepping up. The borough has also benefited from others stepping up and filling the void. The Friends of Marshall Square Park brought back their own popular and long-running concert series adding a fourth event this year. The West Chester Green Team partnered with Mayor Lillian DeBaptiste to bring the borough its first Porchfest. West Chester residents John and Tori McDonald are putting on a Children’s Business Fair in Marshall Square Park on Saturday. While, Downtown West Chester added Fete de la Musique to start the summer, its own First Friday concert series, and Yoga in the Street starting on Saturday*.

So was slashing the department the right call? I am not sure the direction they were going was good a one but I think the innovation and collaboration it has forced is promising. There are, however, still tests ahead including a couple of big ones this fall. When the borough will have to pull off its first Restaurant Festival and Halloween Parade in three years.

If you haven’t yet had a chance to get out and take in one of these low-key get-togethers, there is still time left to get in on the fun.  

Upcoming Borough events:

*These are of course, not all the events going on in the borough. Uptown Theater, Chester County History Center and West Chester University (among, I am sure, unnamed others) continue to serve the community with a diverse variety of events but the nice thing about the Borough events, is they are all free (except Yoga, which is technically the BID).  

Do you want the rail of the past or the rail of the future? 

Picnic benches and trains provided by the West Chester Railroad.

The item was to be a straightforward one. After months of updates on the plan to bring a new electric commuter train to West Chester, Borough Council was to vote in support, or not, of the project with a simple resolution stating mildly, “Borough Council desires to express its support of the Metro Concept.” 

However, that benign show of support got a lot more complicated after Beth Ann Keates of the West Chester Railroad made a surprise visit to the Borough Council Working Session on Tuesday and shared her organization did not support the plan to return a commuter shuttle to West Chester. Ms. Keats who represents the heritage operation, think the one you take to see the fall foliage, get your Christmas tree or see Santa on a train, told Council she did not believe the two plans could co-exist. 

“The infrastructure will not support both,” she stated plainly on Tuesday night. A declaration that seemed to come as a surprise to many members of Council. Most of whom believed the West Chester Rail Service Restoration Committee, which is leading the effort to bring rail back, had the support of the West Chester Railroad. 

“Quite frankly, I haven’t heard about the conflict before,” said Borough Council President Michael Stefano. The sentiment was echoed by the mayor. “I think most of us thought you were lock-stop. I just wish you and your group had been here before,” said Mayor Lilian DeBaptiste referencing the last-minute reveal.

The commuter line would need to use the same tracks as the West Chester Railroad. If that is not possible, SEPTA, which owns the tracks, would have to make a decision between the two directions – the future or the past. “We are trying to recreate the Golden age of railroads. We are preserving history,” said Ms. Keates.

In the end, Borough Council amended the ordinance of support to include language the two entities must collaborate on a solution but approved it unanimously. Showing their support for the future while remaining hopeful, they can also preserve the past.

“We are going to make it work,” said Rail Commission representative Tom Hickey.

If you haven’t been following the saga, I outline the proposal here, and a few disclaimers for those who believe any discussion of this is a waste of time.

  1. The resolution passed by Borough Council this week in no way approves any pieces of the “Metro Plan” nor does it fund anything. It simply says the Borough is supportive of the idea. (This is a preliminary version. More wordsmithing was done at the Voting Session.)
  2. SEPTA owns the tracks. While the borough can support one plan or another, the ultimate arbitrator of how the land will be used (or not used) will be SEPTA.
  3. The return of rail, if it happens, is still a way in the future but this week’s support gives the Rail Committee the authority it needs to move its plan forward. 

Trust falls

Rustin Park, West Chester

Earlier this summer West Chester Park and Rec Department upgraded the fall zones at several area parks with 500 cubic yards of engineered wood fiber (EWF). EWF is composed of wood that’s ground to a fibrous consistency and is commonly used in playgrounds. A lot of it is needed, 9 inches to allow a child to fall safely from a distance of 10 feet, so top-off projects like those completed this summer are common. New material has been laid at Rustin, Veteran’s, Horace Pippin, and Kathy McBratnie Parks. Borders to aesthetically complete the projects will be installed later this summer.

“The most important part of any playground is the fall zone,” West Chester Park and Rec Director Keith Kurowski told Borough Council members last week during a presentation.  

The warnings.

West Chester Borough Police Department on Facebook

You can’t do it all in the name of fashion. This week West Chester police are seeking assistance in locating two women wanted in conjunction with a June 30 theft on Gay Street. A wallet was reportedly stolen from a patron dining outdoors at Bar Avalon. The fashion-conscious suspects then went on a shopping spree at the Target in West Whiteland and dropped over $1800 at a Nordstrom Rack in Philly.

You can run, but you can’t hide here. This week West Chester police took Michael Tolkacz of Trenton, NJ into custody after the registration on the car he was driving came back as stolen. As it turns out, Mr. Tolkacz was wanted on several outstanding warrants including from Philadelphia, Trenton, and Ewing, NJ.

It’s mosquito season. So far this year Chester County has had just two mosquitos test positive for West Nile Virus. Let’s keep it that way by continuing to dump any pools of standing water. Also check gutters, storm drains, and window wells for clogs or puddling. If you have a pool of water on your property that cannot be drained get an environmentally-friendly mosquito dunk. They are available free to residents at Borough Hall. 

It’s hot out there. I hate to state the obvious, but take this as a reminder to check on neighbors or others that may be vulnerable to the heat. And remember, just because you haven’t seen them out, doesn’t mean they are safe. Take that extra step to make sure if you can.

Accolades. 

Some big things happening at Artillery.

Congratulations to the PA State House (that’s not a series of words I type often) on passing a state budget only a week after its stated deadline. The new budget includes nearly $16 million in new school funding – roughly $1.5 million of which will go to the West Chester Area School District.  No word yet on what all that extra cash will be used for. Maybe, bring back the universal lunch program?

Speaking of school success, also a pat on the back to the Peirce Middle School teacher Meaghan Stoinis. Ms. Stoinis was recently recognized for her support of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities receiving the distinction “Advisor of the Year” from the Pennsylvania chapter of Best Buddies International.   

Also, high fives to West Chester’s Lesley Cens-McDowell who will soon be inducted into the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame. Lesley started her athletic career with tennis and Grand Prix motorcycle racing before turning to running. Now well into her 70s, she counts 11 Ironman age-group first place finishes and seven USA Triathlon age group national championships among her accomplishments. She splits her time between West Chester and Holualoa, Hawaii. Lucky girl.

It’s been a couple of good weeks for the guys at Artillery Brewing Company. First, they were singled out by PhillyBite Magazine as one of the five best breweries in Chester County. It was the only West Chester brewery to make this particular list. Then just this week they announced they are opening a pretty-impressive-looking beer garden in Drexell Hill. It will be open Saturdays from 12 – 8:30 p.m. beginning tomorrow. Drexel Hill may have a cooler location. We still have the better selection. 

Hello. 

Turks Head Cafe on Saturday morning.

Come September you can say “hello,” to an extra week of the Gay Street Open Air Market. This week Borough Council unanimously approved closing Gay Street for an additional weekend. Yay, right? But before you go getting too excited and start thinking why only one more weekend? The weather is nice through September into October sometimes – let’s extend it again and again. The extension approvals have to come from PennDot, which still has jurisdiction over Gay Street. Wah wah.

In more redistricting news, last week we looked at the updated House Districts. This week it’s the PA Senate. Under the new boundary lines West Chester Borough, East Bradford, and West Whiteland will continue to be part of the 19th Senatorial District. We are now joined by neighbors West Goshen and East Goshen. For you newbies, this district is currently represented by State Senator Carolyn Comitta.  You can see the full map here

Also, say hello, to a new way to treat your pup. Mercato has reportedly introduced a menu tailored specifically for your pooch. Choose from items like the $6 “Pupper-tini,” or a $12 Salmon “Yappy Meal.” For dessert? A refreshing pupcone, of course. 

Finally, Temple fans get ready to see a familiar face. Former Owl guard Khalif Wyatt will soon be a Golden Ram. He is joining the West Chester University coaching staff as an assistant basketball coach.

Goodbye.

Final repairs may soon be coming to Union Station.

After more than a decade, closure could finally come to Union Station Phase I condominiums on E. Union and S. Adams Streets. This week the borough agreed on a plan that would compel developers Union Station Condiminum, LLC to finally complete the outstanding items on the borough’s land development inspection report. Items that were to be fixed by June 27 – 2011(!)

A revised “punch list” completed by the Borough’s Building and Housing department identified nearly 70 issues. Much of the concerns lie around the sidewalks and stormwater implements, including multiple tripping hazards and at least one area where it was requested that “miscellaneous asphalt, construction debris” be removed. 

Under the new agreement which is ready for signature, the borough will release Union Station from its bond but retain the money ($155,831.67 of the original $457,870). While Union Station will contract with the paving company, the borough will hold the pursestrings using the money to put an end to this very long and drawn-out process. 

Read the full settlement agreement here. One thing of note in this agreement, no timeline for completion is given. 

In more cleaning up loose ends news, the borough has reportedly issued demolition permits to the new owners of the Davis Oil property at 614 E. Barnard Street. Once all utilities have been shut off to the property, demolition can begin. Note: Since it is a brownfield site the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection will be onsite for the demolition. 

Pay it forward.

“Claude Rains” house on the corner of Dean and Church Streets.

For this week’s Pay it Forward, we are first going to step back to one of the country’s first major “pay it forward” movements – the Underground Railroad and West Chester’s role in it. In a Daily Local profile of the iconic house on the corner of Dean and Church Streets, we learn the property, once home to mid-20th century movie star Claude Rains, connects to a tunnel that juts ten to 12 feet under Dean Street. While certainly suspicious further research would need to be done before a station can be confirmed.

Whether or not, the home was a physical stop, no one knows for sure but West Chester’s ties to the abolitionist movement are not in question including being home to some of the movement’s most important advocates – Abraham Shadd and Philip Sharples, the original owner of the Dean Street home, among them. 

“The underground railroad was less about stations and more about the people involved,” says Jennifer Green, Director of Education for the Chester County History Center.   

If you would like to learn more about West Chester’s role in the Underground Railroad, West Chester History Center has been hosting a walking tour on the topic. The tour lasts 90 minutes, covers 1.25 miles, and hits eight stops. Tickets are $15. The next tour is Wednesday evening but they continue into August if the heat has not broken by then.  

Also, a reminder, we learned last week that inflation is forcing some in this area to have to decide between paying rent, gassing the car to get to work, or putting food on the table. As hard it is to imagine as someone who gets hangry anytime her blood sugar drops, food is often the first sacrifice. Below are several of the groups stepping up to fill that void and how they could best use your support. Help them if you can.   

The Dorthy Day Center: Bottled water, nonperishable donations, diapers, wipes, and personal care items. Find a complete list of need items here. They could also use assistance with their back-to-school backpack and supply drive. Call the Outreach Desk at 610-429-0697 to help with that. If you would like to help prepare meals that would also be welcome, email stagnesdayroomcooks@gmail.com for more information on how you can help. 

West Chester Food Cupboard: Cash donations are always preferred so that they can purchase the food items they need most. Store gift cards (Giant and ShopRite) are also most welcome and during the summer they accept fresh produce from gardens. So don’t pitch that excess! Like bringing goods? Find a list of the most needed items on their website.

West Chester Senior Center: Food and household items are always welcome as well as grocery and big box gift cards. They also welcome volunteers. If you would like to contribute time, complete their volunteer application and bring it to their 530 E. Union Street location.

Struggling under the stress of rising prices? Maybe a little diversion is in order? Remember those borough events? They are all free. 

The freakin’ weekend.

Who’s ready to dig into the weekend? Juliet Novak sure is. Photo: Paul Novak.

What are you up to this weekend? We will be busy putting the finishing touches on our upcoming vacation and probably laying limply in the pool. 

If you have the energy or motivation to head out this weekend, Yoga in the Street starts Saturday morning in front of the Post Office. Bring your mat, water, and $5. Fresh corn and watermelon available at the Growers Market, refreshing cocktails at Slow Hand, and Sunset Hill Jewelers are having a pretty big sale. Every item in their front window will be $25 – maybe you’ll find a way to ice down? 

And when all else fails, ice cream.

A couple of housekeeping items:

  1. I am taking the next two weeks off from the Roundup but I have a very interesting entrepreneur profile in the works that should come out the first week of August.
  2. This week’s Freakin’ Weekend image of my friend Juliet got me thinking – what’s the weekend to you? Send me your best weekend pictures to be featured. Just remember they must be of West Chester. No making everyone jealous with vacation pics.

Mark your calendars:

That’s it. Stay safe, stay cool and I’ll see you in August!

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