Chalk art fills an under-utilized section of Gay Street during a recent closure.

In 2020, in a rather drastic move to save its flailing restaurant industry, West Chester closed Gay Street to vehicular traffic for the summer. There were t-shirts and a slogan – Main Street Strong – and a general pulling together for the greater cause. And maybe because nothing else was possible at the time, there was an enthusiastic embrace of West Chester’s future as a pedestrian haven. A place where people, not cars and exhaust, came first. 

Since then West Chester has continued to close Gay Street to traffic (weekends only now) and, while the move remains generally supported by residents and restaurant owners, limited funds have hindered what could be done to address everyday issues such as safety, access, aesthetics, uneven participation, and mounting trash. Well, after three years, the Borough may finally have a legitimate chance to fulfill that early promise.

Last month, West Chester got a letter from the County – a big letter from the County. “The Chester County Board of Commissioners is pleased to announce that the Borough of West Chester has been awarded the following funding,” it read. “Gay Street Open-Air Marketplace Infrastructure – Phase I, $677,797.” The award is contingent on a Borough match of 25 percent, or the not insignificant amount of $169,449. This money would have to be added to the 2024 budget and doing so at this late date would likely require a significant reprioritizing of funds. A challenging but not impossible task – I am told there are ideas on how this could work. 

Then there is the issue of what to do with the money. As you may or may not recall, last year Borough consultants Traffic Planning and Designs presented a less-than-inspiring design proposal that focused heavily on adding gates to Gay Street. After the proposal was shared there were significant concerns raised over what Gay Street would look like with a series of large wrought iron gates placed at key five intersections. Fortunately, I am told this is not an approved playbook.  

“I think Council should set up an ad hoc committee made up of residents, businesses, police, and public works and build a collective vision for the four blocks. Currently, the Open Air market is very underutilized in its current state,” said Councilman Bernie Flynn. 

And if you were not a fan of the gates, know you have at least one councilman in your corner. “I’m not a fan of gates and brick pillars, it will be too restrictive,” said Mr. Flynn. Instead, he supports the idea of bollards to safely close the street. 

Originally published, Aug. 4, 2023

This story is part of a longer weekly West Chester newsletter. Curious what else is going on? You can find the full issue here and the latest newsletter here. Even easier? Subscribe here to get the future issues delivered directly.

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