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2015 Major Activities of the West Chester BID

West Chester BID logoMarch 2015 | Malcolm Johnstone

The West Chester BID Board of Directors is in the process of creating or enhancing existing programs that go beyond the regular Main Street activities for the downtown and provide broadbased community and economic development inclusive of the Borough. This benefits both the stakeholders of Downtown and the residents of the Borough.

1) Heart of the Brandywine initiative
The Borough of West Chester and the stakeholders of downtown -- many are locally-owned businesses -- share a common interest of the need to attract more visitors. Businesses seek to gain more customers and the Borough seeks to increase parking revenues.

Beyond the regular marketing activities of the West Chester BID that have proven to be effective in sustaining downtown West Chester, there is an opportunity to move the downtown to the next level for attracting visitors. By extending the reach beyond the hyper-local market to the more than 1-million marketable leisure travelers that visit the Brandywine Valley each year, West Chester BID is initiating a Regional Revitalization Network to create interlinking partnerships that provide a collective impact for attracting visitors to West Chester. The organizing partners are Marnie Conley of Longwood Gardens, Mary Hutchins of Historic Kennett Square, and Deb Brandt of Moxie House (Fig). Eventually, the goal is to have the more than 100 regional attractions participating that will resemble other successful programs such as the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor. This concept is encouraged by the Pennsylvania Downtown Center.

Both the downtown and the community will benefit from this program, not only from increased visitorship, but also through the promotional efforts showing that the Borough is a safe, vibrant, and attractive community in which to live and work.

Goal: Expand the tertiary marketing efforts of the BID to be inclusive of the Brandywine Valley through multiple platforms on both the internet and conventional media. Attain a tertiary reach of over 1,500,000.

Partners (reach):

  • Fig (50k)
  • Pennsylvania Vacation Magazine (450k)
  • Chester County Conference & Visitor Bureau (100k)
  • Longwood Gardens (50k)
  • AAA World Magazine Brandywine Valley feature (800k)
  • Philadelphia Conference Center Visitors Guide (120k)
  • Philadelphia Map (150k)
  • VisitPhilly (25k)
  • Greater West Chester Chamber of Commerce (25k)
  • Classic Towns (25k)

2) Improvements to the Charles A. Melton Community & Arts Center
In 2004, the Pennsylvania Legislature created the Elm Street Program, a community development program aimed at revitalizing residential neighborhoods and fashioned after the Main Street Approach. The Pennsylvania Downtown Center (PDC) was contracted to conduct the program with oversight and funding from Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development (DCED). Because of my former experience with Livable Oregon, a division of the Oregon Downtown development Association, I was asked to participate on the ad hoc committee that helped shape the program. I was privileged to be asked to join Bill Fontana, Executive Director of PDC, to introduce this dynamic program at the 2005 National Town Meeting held in Baltimore that year.

West Chester then became one of the first places to inaugurate an Elm Street, which is located in the Southeast and governed by the East End Neighborhood Association. Some $600,000 in DCED funds were provided for administration and street and home improvements made during the five-year period of the program.

Today, while state funding has been significantly curtailed for Elm Street, the BID has, nevertheless, responded to community volunteers to assist in helping to fund certain Melton Center improvements, including the outdoor swimming pool, for which the BID was able to obtain a $12,500 grant from DCED with additional funding matched by the Melton Center. Friday Architects was hired to conduct a feasibility study for the dormant public pool and fund-raising is currently in place for the redevelopment project. BID will continue to work with the Melton Center to help secure capital improvement funding where possible.

Completion of the swimming pool project will not take place without active participation from Borough Council.

3) Theater Development
In 2010, the BID expanded its boundaries to include the West Chester Armory, knowing that its divestment would soon take place. This would qualify the Armory's redevelopment for potential state funding facilitated by the BID. Soon after, the Uptown Entertainment Alliance (UEA) targeted the Armory for a theater redevelopment. In 2013, the BID arranged a state sponsored Feasibility Assessment through the Pennsylvania Downtown Center (PDC) to position the theater project for an Anchor Block grant-to-loan of up to $500,000. I have notified Beverly Hutzel, our contact at Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development (DCED), of our intent to apply for such a grant, the first step in the granting process.

Only the BID, as a designated and accredited Main Street Program, is authorized to make such a submission for the Borough. However, if awarded, the grant will go to the Borough for the expressed purpose of loaning the funds for the development of the theater project under mutually agreed terms. Once the loan is repaid, the funds may be reloaned for any community or economic development project within the entire Borough, similar to the Borough's current UDAG funds.

4) Post Office
The BID is a consulting party to the current divestment process of the Post Office and has been since 2011. Earlier this year, the BID Board approved a preservation goal for the historic Post Office that also serves as a process for strengthening the local historic preservation ethic.  Recently the West Chester Food Co-op has created a Steering Committee to develop a local food co-op with the Post Office as a likely, but not definite site. It is a community initiated development with volunteers currently organizing and planning a member-owned cooperative grocery store in West Chester. Residents will see many benefits to a community owned store, including more transparency and security in their food supply, convenient access at fair prices to the foods and other products that they prefer, the ability to support local food producers and the local economy, and the opportunity to build community through cooperation, education, and care for others.

Working with the co-op steering committee, I have notified Beverly Hutzel, our contact at Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development (DCED), of our intent to submit for a Re-development grant of $500,000, the first step in the granting process.

Only the BID, as a designated and accredited Main Street Program, is authorized to make such a submission for the Borough. Again, if awarded, the grant will go the Borough for the expressed purpose of loaning the funds for the development of the co-op project under mutually agreed terms if located within the BID. Once the loan is repaid, the funds may be reloaned for any community or economic development project within the entire Borough.

Should the co-op project take place at the Post Office, it may also be feasible to retain the postal services at that location.

 

 
 

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