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It’s Friday, Mar. 17: Happy St. Patty’s Day! This week West Chester fights to preserve neighborhood charm against the intruding sameness of modern new construction. Plus, after two unique performances, Uptown walks away from its ambitious goal to produce plays in-house. What’s next for the local theater? And is La Scala’s Fire finally going to open at 44 West? Who knows but their sign was approved and lots and lots of green treats. Who’s ready? Let’s catch up.
In-house Theater a Short-lived Pipe Dream at Uptown
In case you missed it (I did), Uptown Theater did a little soul-searching (and house-cleaning) in February parting ways with both Executive Director April Evans and Artistic Director Carmen Kahn. They also hit stop on the idea of creating professional-level theater productions in-house. After creating and performing two such plays from scratch (director, actors, sets, costumes, lighting), the board decided neither the theater nor the community was ready for the ambitious in-house production plan conceived during months of pandemic lockdowns.
“In 2021, during a time when every arts organization was experiencing the challenges of Covid, Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center Board of Directors launched an ambitious plan to hire an Artistic Director in order to undertake the process of building a regional theatre company at Uptown,” the board shared in a statement.
Well, that vision did not pan out – at least not in the timeframe the theater needed it to.
“People have not come to theater as quickly as they have come back to music,” said Uptown Board Member Holly Brown, who along with fellow board members Tom McEvoy and Gary Green, is serving as the performing arts center’s Interim Director and Program Director. She suggested the theater’s traditionally older audience and this groups’ lingering health fears among potential reasons for the low numbers. “Theater seems to be doing ok in major cities but it’s not doing as well in the suburbs. The theater audience may be a little more conservative,” she said.
There was also a mix of success with the shows selected. While “The Mountaintop” received a better reception, their first production, The Butterfingers Angel “didn’t do well” according to Holly. Couple that with the added costs of producing a show in-house and the fact that in order to have time and space to get the play ready, you need to close your venue to all other events (and revenue sources) for several weeks at a time, and perhaps, the following isn’t such a surprise.
“Having carefully evaluated our progress toward that ambitious goal, we have decided to temporarily discontinue producing our own professional theater offerings,” the statement continued. That, however, does not mean they are backing away from performances or even theater, quite the opposite. Holly said she and her co-interim directors would like to see more shows, ideally every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night, along with Monday Movies, and maybe a family matinee on Sunday afternoons.
“We are really pushing on expansion right now and you have to watch everything. What can we do more efficiently? And just find out what works,” she said of the leadership team’s goals over the next couple of months.
She predicts this learning curve may take a season or two. Then, the volunteer directors would like to go back to their own regularly scheduled programming and leave the nonprofit management to somebody else.
“We are here to make sure the theater is here a long time after us,” Holly said.
A recap of events:
- Uptown parted ways with Artistic Director Carmen Kahn in February. “We could not have accomplished what we did without Carmen’s leadership and direction,” the Board said in a statement.
- Also, let go was Executive Director April Evans. She worked for six years at the theater, starting as an executive assistant and quickly working her way up to the lead role.
- Part of the decision to move away from in-house productions involved canceling this season’s final planned performance, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” Those who had purchased tickets for the play were issued full refunds, including fees.
- A new traveling production, Ray Didinger’s “Tommy & Me,” will be presented in the fall. The new leadership team is also working to finalize a production for August and November.
What’s in a Number: A look at the Borough’s new $700,000 roof
I, my friends, am in the wrong business. This week Borough Council approved awarding a bid to ARC Roofing in the amount of $748,225 to replace the roof on Borough Hall which began leaking sometime last fall.
What exactly is included in this three-quarters-of-a-million-dollar project?
The base bid includes: Replacing the roof and the removal and replacement of nearly 1000 sq feet of wet insulation. The base bid plus alternate (which the Borough opted for) also includes fixing the skylights in the entryway.
Is that high? It seems high. That is a question that does not at this time have a great answer. When Borough Engineers were asked to estimate the cost of the project earlier this year they came back to the team with a figure of $425,000 for the base job, perhaps another $75,000 for the skylights. The actual figure, however, is more than 50 percent over estimate.
Why, exactly, became a matter of debate this week.
First, there are a few environmental factors at play that don’t make it a great time to undertake a major construction project. There is inflation, labor shortages, and pandemic-induced knots still working their way through the supply chain. At the same time, the sector is seeing increased demand created by government infrastructure projects. All of which tends to mean higher costs.
Then there is the estimate itself. “Roofing is especially hard to pin down. I’ve had estimates that are off by 50 percent, I’ve had bids that are within 1 percent,” Pennoni engineer Nathan Kline told Borough Council members on Tuesday.
Finally, there is the Borough’s new Responsible Contractor Ordinance which was approved last summer. Under the new directive, the Borough agreed to only work with contractors that among other things provide workers a “prevailing wage” and offer training to all skilled workers via an “apprentiship program.” Supporters of the change argued it protects the Borough from the actions of unscrupulous contractors while supporting the next generation of workers. Critics maintained it would limit the field of applicable contractors and ultimately cost taxpayers more money. (You can read the full text of the ordinance here.)
“There is going to be a cost to this and the cost to the taxpayer will go up, but it’s worth it due to the liability,” Council President Michael Stefano was quoted saying at the time. In the end, Borough Council decided to accept the risk, approving the measure 7-0.
This week, resident Eric Lorgus took to the podium to ask Borough Council if maybe that cost is too high.
“It was anticipated costs were going to rise because it was going to narrow the field of contractors,” he said, “but … [the costs are] going up by 50 percent. So I am asking you Council if you are willing to spend an extra potentially $200,000 or if it might be time to revisit the ordinance and see if it was too restrictive in terms of limiting too many bidders?”
The increase was noted but at this point, Borough Council felt the evidence was just not there.
“I share your concerns,” said Mr. Stefano. “I just don’t know if we can definitively say at this point, hey, if we didn’t have [the ordinance] we’d have a much lower bid.”
The majority of the new roof will be paid for using the Borough’s remaining American Rescue Plan funds. How exactly we will pay for the next major project remains to be seen.
Mabel’s burglar apprehended. A couple of weeks ago, there was a reported break-in and robbery at Mabel’s Barbecue. Well, last week justice was served. Ryan Wade, 44, of West Chester was picked up by West Chester Police in connection with the incident. He is now facing one count of burglary and three related charges.
You can run, but who wants to live like that? Last week Nicholas O’Rourke, 22, of Glenmoore turned himself into West Chester Police on charges of fleeing, eluding, and a number of other traffic offenses. A warrant was issued for Mr. O’Rourke after he fled, at a high rate of speed, from a 4 a.m. traffic stop. The officer began then terminated the pursuit probably thinking it was much too early for this (at least that is where my head would be). Upon his arrest, Mr. O’Rourke was transported to Chester County Prison for arraignment.
Jesse Hawkins does. Earlier this week Westtown-East Goshen Police responded to a reported catalytic converter theft on Wilmington Pike. After identifying the subject they attempted to execute a traffic stop but the operator of the vehicle, Jesse Hawkins of Wilmington, refused to stop. The officers followed briefly and then abandoned the pursuit. However, moments after the pursuit ended the operator was involved in a minor crash. He continued on, briefly. Soon after fleeing the second crime scene, he was in another crash at the intersection of 202 and Rt 1. This time the vehicle was disabled. However, that did not stop Jesse. He continued to flee on foot. Briefly. He was taken into custody by officers and charged with a litany of offenses. Not included, screwing up Wednesday morning’s commute.
Remember the 3-second rule. West Chester Borough Fire Department along with Good Fellowship ambulance responded to a car accident at the intersection of 926 and South Westtown Road at about 10 p.m. on Saturday night. Crews rescued one passenger from the vehicle and sent a total of four to the hospital. Hopefully, no one was seriously hurt.
A shout out this week to the Hotel Warner which was named one of the Top 25 Historic Hotels of America in Film and Television by Historic Hotels of America, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Hotel Warner was included on a list that included the River Street Inn in Savannah, Georgia which appears in 1998’s Glory and more recently Ant-Man and the Wasp and New Orleans’s Omni Royal which shows up in the James Bond pic Live and Let Die, and this year’s Daisy Jones and the Six. The Warner’s TV and movie cred is a little lighter. Its only noted on-screen appearance comes in the movie Life of the Party, a 1930 comedy starring Winnie Lightner. Still, you’ve got to appreciate the company. Grab a seat in the hotel bar and feel a little like the life of the party yourself.
Speaking of movies, West Chester-raised filmmaker Nathan Breton is back at it with a new movie, Fireflight. According to a report by WFMZ 69 News the film, which was shot in part at Bear Creek, follows a group of friends as they navigate relationships and their futures, apparently, while at a ski resort. The film is scheduled to be released early next year.
Also this week, high-fives to the Rustin girls’ basketball team which is now officially among the top eight teams in the state (in their division). Last week they advanced easily over their first-round rival Susquehannock. Things got a little tighter in round two, but the girls left it all out on the court in the fourth quarter to narrowly edge past Abington Heights, 49-46. They are back in action on Saturday when they will face Bethlehem Catholic for a chance to advance to the final four.
Bonus points: Rustin leaders (and twin sisters), Laine and Elizabeth McGurk were recently featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer!
On the boys’ side of the tournament, it’s lights out for West Chester. Henderson and Rustin both lost in the first round. East advanced to the second round only to be knocked out of the tournament on Tuesday by Archbishop Ryan. This was same team that ended Rustin’s tournament hopes days earlier.
Finally, congratulations to the West Chester University women’s basketball team on a great run. Last weekend the team logged wins over California (PA) and Charleston (WV) to advance to the NCAA II Tournament Sweet 16 before falling to #1 seed Glenville State in the Regional Championship round. This marks the first time in program history the Lady Rams have played in a Regional Final.
While were are here, high fives to:
- Ann Carozza, the West Chester East Alum, finished her WCU swimming career high, high up on the podium last week taking first place in the 200 fly at the NCAA Division II Swimming & Diving Championships. This is the second year in a row she won the event. She also took home a bunch of All-American honors. Way to go Ann!
- Also, climbing podiums at West Chester University, Ralph Casper. The junior thrower came in second at the NCAA Division II Indoor Track & Field Championships earning All-American honors in the process.
Can we finally say hello to La Scala’s Fire? There has finally been some movement – although baby steps – at the long-awaited Italian American eatery planned for the other wing of 44 West. The restaurant, known for its wood-fired entrees, has several locations around Philadelphia and New Jersey. This week Borough Council voted to approve a certificate of appropriateness for a new sign, canopy, and window wall to be added at the location. Hopefully, this means the rest of the restaurant is soon to follow.
Staying downtown, here’s another new one for you, Downtown West Chester is hoping to interest you in an Adult Easter Egg Hunt. The new adult-only event is planned for April 7. Much like the kid’s version, the event will involve eggs hidden all over downtown only this time the goodies will be for the adults: think shop discounts, small items, or maybe liquor-filled chocolates (that last one was mine.)
Also good news for all you Renew Laser & Aesthetic Medicine fans. You will no longer need to drive to Kennet for those smooth and shiny med-spa looks. Renew is opening its second location at 704 W. Nields St. in the same shopping center as West Chester Pizza Cafe and Annie’s Nails. Enjoy all your favorite services like cool sculpting, botox, chemical peels, and laser hair removal at half the distance as before.
Finally, can’t get enough of all this basketball action? Well, you won’t have to – at least your kids won’t. West Chester is saying hello to a new nonprofit recreation basketball league starting this summer. The league is open to both boys and girls. Boys can start in first grade, girls have to wait until 3rd grade both can play through high school, West Chester Hoops will begin May 22 playing Mondays at East Goshen Park. If you are interested, sign up now. Registration closes on April 1.
This week the Borough made it clear they are ready to say goodbye to out-of-place new builds. At Tuesday’s Borough Council Worksession members pushed back against the design for a four-unit condominium planned for 732 S. Matlack Street. The presented streetscape showed a brick and gray shake exterior with a single central unit and four small porticos to signify each unit’s entrance.
“I’m concerned,” said Borough Councilman Nick Allen upon seeing the design.
Councilwoman Lisa Dorsey seconded those feelings. “I think we are losing our historic charm with some of these modern-looking structures we are putting up,” she said.
The builder said the project architect pulled inspiration from a new build on a nearby block but that they had no problem going back to the drawing board on the exterior design.
“We have no concern reworking this,” he told Council members. He promised to return with a final design that better incorporated the elements of the neighborhood including a larger front porch area, more brick, and the residences that look like four separate units. When finished each will be a 3-bedroom unit with a two-car garage and additional off-street parking – in case you know anyone in the market.
Councilwoman Dorsey also left a request for the planning commission. “Be more aware and conscious of how we are changing the aesthetic of the borough,” she said.
Also, it’s out with the old and in with some new management at Shawarma Kebab. The certified halal fast food restaurant on Market Street is promising “a renewed commitment to providing the finest, most authentic Middle Eastern recipes in West Chester.”
“Our team is dedicated to ensuring that our customers receive the highest level of service and quality,” they shared via their new Instagram account.
Pay it forward.
QVC seems to be taking all those losses to heart. Instead of just chasing fly-by-night influencers and reality-show winners the home shopping network has announced it is introducing a new shopping category that will make life easier for those with disabilities.
“We believe everyone deserves inclusive shopping experiences, services, and products that make them feel seen, including the millions of Americans who are living with a disability; aging in place or in assisted living; recovering from a surgery, illness, or injury; or supporting others as a caregiver,” said Rachel Ungaro, GMM and VP of Fashion Merchandising for QVC.
To help make sure this new category gets seen, QVC is tapping Selma Blair as its newest brand ambassador. The Legally Blonde and Cruel Intentions actress announced several years ago she had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. She has since been vocal about her diagnosis, even launching her own company aimed at making cosmetics easier to apply for those with disabilities.
Always dream of walking to work? The County Lines Magazine team (their offices are on Franklin Street) is seeking a part-time, part-remote account executive. Find out more by contacting Info@ValleyDel.com.
The freakin’ weekend.
What are you up to this weekend? The boys are heading to the Ashland Nature Center for an overnight camping trip leaving the girls at home to celebrate with some pizza and a little March Madness. (Saturday I can enjoy. Tonight I will likely be biting my nails and screaming at the screen.)
And in case you forgot, today is St. Patrick’s Day (bonus – WCU is on spring break, so the town is yours).
If you are looking for something sweet – Yori’s Bakery has shamrock cookies, Carlino’s has Bailey’s infused creme brulee, and Dia Doce has Guinness cupcakes with Irish Cream frosting or how about, cereal milk cake with Lucky Charms on top? Given up baked goods for Lent? Don’t worry, Gemelli’s Irish Coffee gelato has you covered on two fronts. Speaking of…
If you are looking to head out into the action, Kildare’s Irish Pub and Ryan’s Pub will have authentic Irish music all day long. Levante’s got some “No Green Beer” celebration going on and, if you just don’t believe the hype, Barnaby’s has all the games and $3 Miller Lites for sustained hangs.
Plus, Henderson is staging Footloose this weekend. This was a favorite of mine as a kid and, while Mr. Bacon will not be making an appearance, with more than 50 kids in the cast it should still be quite the production.
Finally, special thanks to Uptown Theater, this week’s Community Sponsor. If you haven’t been to their website lately, you should check it out. There is a LOT planned including Sharon Sable singing the music of Blossom Dearie and the Latin riffs of Tito Puente, Jr.
Uptown has a vibrant spring planned for you with world-class live jazz on both the Mainstage and in the Cabaret, concerts, improv comedy nights, weekly film events, and the first Uptown appearance of the renowned Sharp Dance Company. Kids classes run through spring and camps run all summer. Hear about it all first – sign up for our free newsletter!
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Mark your calendars:
- Mar. 13 – 17 – WCU Spring Break
- Mar. 17 – Sports Ball, Pietro’s Prime, live music
- Mar. 17 – 19 – No Green Beer Weekend, Levante Brewing; starts 6 p.m. Friday; enjoy live music and St. Patrick food specials. Check event page for details.
- Mar. 18 – “Sweet Baby James”, Uptown Theater, 7:30 p.m. Enjoy the soft sounds of the #1 James Taylor tribute band. Tickets: $42/advance; $47/door. NOTE: limited seats remain!
- Mar. 18 – Bad Hombres, Pietro’s Prime, live music
- Mar. 18 – Cavalcade Jazz Band Fest, East High School, 6 p.m.
- Mar. 20 – Preschool Ballet Class Demo, West Chester Public Library, 10:30 – 11:15 a.m. Ages 3-6, no prior dance experience required. If you don’t have ballet shoes, you can wear socks or sneakers. Registration required.
- Mar. 20 – Grade School Jazz Class Demo, West Chester Public Library, 6 – 7 p.m. Ages 6 – 14, No prior dance experience required. Registration required.
- Mar. 20 – Poker Night, Saloon 151, 7:30 p.m.
- Mar. 21 – Off the Rail Karaoke, Split Rail Tavern, 9:30 p.m. – 1 a.m.
- Mar. 21 – World Voice Day, The Sciences and Engineering Center and The Commons, Ballroom A, 7 – 9 p.m. A special symposium will feature compelling discussions on a wide range of topics, including the results of the first study conducted on mindfulness and people with voice disorders. Also enjoy be a performance by an elite soprano who has full mastery of her voice.
- Mar. 21 – Bach Celebration, Madeleine Wing Adler Theater, 8:15 – 9:45 p.m. An annual celebration of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. This concert is free and open to the public. Tickets are not required.
- Mar. 22 – 25, 33rd Annual WCU Jazz Fest, Performances to be held at Madeleine Wing Adler Theatre, Swope Music Building and Performing Arts Center, 817 S. High Street, West Chester. Most are free and open to the public. Full listing of events and times can be found at www.wcupa.edu/jazzfest.
- Mar. 22 – How to Teach Conservation and Sustainable Use of the Oceans, Sykes Student Union 255 A/B or Zoom, 12 – 12:50 p.m. Presented by WCU faculty and at 50 minutes each, these seminars introduce an array of sustainability topics in easily digestible segments. Presentations are free and open to the public. For Zoom use the link above and passcode: 878376
- Mar. 22 – Ukulele Group, West Chester Public Library, 5 – 7 p.m. Looking for a friendly group to play/practice with? Here you go. Meets each Wednesday.
- Mar. 23 – Better Than Bacon, Uptown Theater, 7:30 p.m. Better Than Bacon performs in completely unscripted improvisational games, all driven by audience suggestions. Tickets: $25/advance; $30/door. Proceeds from the show go to support the Friends Association.
Psst. Like to plan ahead? Visit the new Calendar page. I have events through July!
That’s it. Stay safe, stay healthy and I’ll see you next week.
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