A.1. INVENTORY OF
TRENDS AND ISSUES
A healthy, thriving business district is
important to the community and positively affects property values for both
commercial and residential property owners. West Chester Borough is
substantially built out, so there is limited land available for new development.
The only new development that can occur in West Chester Borough will be
redevelopment on existing sites and small infill development on the few open
lots that exist. However, within the West Goshen portion of the Urban Center,
there may be more opportunities. Unless the redevelopment in West Chester
Borough includes increased density or intensity of use on existing parcels there
will not be an increase in real estate tax ratables or assessed value (see
section A.1.b. for further discussion of this concern).
The business community is integral to the
development of this Revitalization Plan. The Executive Director of the West
Chester Business Improvement District (BID), Malcolm Johnstone, served on the
Task Force and helped with preparation of this Revitalization Plan.
A.1.a. Background Information
The economic development potential of West
Chester Borough was evaluated from a regional market perspective and a local
market perspective. Current economic conditions in West Chester Borough are
assessed with a variety of data and information sources.
Major economic uses are clustered in the Town
Center areas of West Chester Borough, and the extensions of the Town Center
along Market, Gay, and High Streets. Map 2. Existing Land Use (from the November
2000 Comprehensive Plan) depicts commercial uses in the downtown and along the
Gay Street, Market Street, and High Street "corridors". The major industrial
area is in the southeastern portion of the Borough.
Background data on the labor force and employment
base in West Chester Borough and Chester County is presented below.
Table 1. Labor Force Characteristics
appears in Appendix B. It provides information on the labor force in West
Chester Borough. To provide a benchmark for comparison, labor force data for the
County are also presented in the table. The data are from the 2000 Census.
Contrasting the labor force statistics between
West Chester Borough and Chester County reveals a number of important elements
of the structure of the labor force in the Borough. West Chester Borough has a
significantly higher number of people who work in the industry category called
arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation and food services.
While 5.4% of the county-wide labor force works
in this sector in West Chester Borough, almost 14.1% of the labor force is
employed in this sector
Another difference revealed in Table 1. is the
percentage of employees who work in educational services. While 19.8% of the
county population is employed in educational, health, and social services in
West Chester Borough, 21.9% of the population is employed in educational,
health, and social services. This number can be attributed to West Chester
Another difference is apparent in the class of
worker data. 12.5% of the workers in West Chester Borough are classified as
government workers, due to the presence of the Courthouse. Throughout the
County, 8.5% of the workers are classified as government workers.
The data for manufacturing workers reveals
another interesting contrast. In the county, 14.8% of workers are employed in
the manufacturing sector (summing the numbers for the manufacture of nondurable
and durable goods). In West Chester Borough, 7.8% of workers are employed in
Economic Sector Analysis
The 1997 Economic Census reports the number of employees and number of
establishments by Industry in the Borough. This information is listed in Table
2. Statistics by Economic Sector, which appears in Appendix B . These data
corroborates the picture protrayed by the labor force data. The largest sectors
in West Chester Borough, as measured by total number of employees are: retail
trade (4,805); professional, scientific, and technical services (2,735);
accomodation and food services (1,000-2,499); and manufacturing (1,796). The
information shown is reported only for for-profit organizations. The government
sector and the non-profit sector are not reported, so the impact of West Chester
University and local government agencies are not reflected in this table.
In regard to the gross value of output, the
retail sector reported over $2.5 billion in gross receipts. The manufacturing
sector reported over $402 million in gross receipts. Professional, scientific,
and technical services reported over $270 million in gross income.
The West Chester Comprehensive Plan (November 2000) reported the major employers
in the Borough. Table 3. indicates the Major Employers in West Chester Borough.
The largest employers are West Chester University, Chester County Hospital, and
the Chester County Courthouse, which have 5,488 employees or 70.6% of the total
number of employees of the list of major employers.
Table 3. Major Employers in
West Chester Borough
||Number of Employees*
|West Chester University
|Chester County Hospital
|Chester County Courthouse
|YMCA of Central Chester County
|ARAMARK Food & Supply Service
|Wyeth Ayerst Pharmaceutical
|Adecco Employment Services,
|West Chester Area School
|Borough of West Chester
* (Includes full-time, part-time, and seasonal
Source: Berkheimer Associates records for the 1999 tax year, as reported in the
West Chester Comprehensive Plan, dated November 2000.
General Inventory of the Existing
Downtown West Chester is one of the oldest commercial districts in the country,
dating from the mid-1800’s. Most of the buildings in the downtown date from
The Comprehensive Plan reports that
retail/service land use occupies approximately 59.3 acres of land (5.6% of the
Borough’s total land area). Retail/Service establishments are primarily
concentrated in the downtown area and along the main thoroughfares – namely, Gay
Street, Market Street, High Street, Route 322 – Hannum Avenue, and Strasburg
Road. Industrial uses are clustered in the southeastern portion of the Borough
(as shown in Map 2. Existing Land Use).
An inventory of existing business uses in the
Downtown was prepared in 2001 as part of a Zoning Ordinance analysis for Retail
Overlay Districts. This inventory is included in
Inventory of Vacant Commercial Sites
Within the BID Area
The Business Improvement District (BID) reports that commercial vacancy rates
for the Downtown area (BID area) range between 7% and 11%. The BID classifies
vacant commercial spaces into three categories:
- vacant and available (ready to rent);
- vacant and unavailable (possible to rent but
- vacant and undeveloped (or underdeveloped).
The vacant commercial sites are illustrated on
Map 3. Within the Downtown, there are 18 vacant commercial sites. Of these, 13
fall into the first category. There are currently four vacant sites that are
unavailable for lease. There is one site at Market and Walnut that is classified
as vacant and undeveloped. The vacancies are distributed throughout the
Retail Mix in Downtown West Chester
The Retail Enhancement & Expansion Program (REEP), developed by the BID,
analyzed the economic structure and retail mix in and around downtown West
Chester. The analysis indicates that there are four general economic categories
in downtown West Chester. These include: government services; professional and
financial services; retail services; and amenity and eating establishments.
- Government services are the most visible
sector. As the county seat, West Chester is the traditional center for
government offices, courts and the post office.
- Professional and financial services is the
largest sector of downtown West Chester representing approximately two-thirds
of the businesses. Included in this category are banks, insurance agencies,
financial consultants, attorneys, design professionals, media agencies,
computer and technology consultants and other professional services.
- The retail services sector includes jewelry
stores, apparel shops, art galleries, antique shops, gift shops, home
furnishings, and other establishments that provide for the sale of goods.
- Amenity and eating establishments includes
restaurants, hotels, bars and taverns, coffee shops and other businesses that
attract customers for social or entertainment purposes.
Retail Market Analysis
The retail sector is vital to the functioning of Downtown West Chester as well
as to the overall well-being of the Borough. As noted in Table 2., retail trade
is a substantial component of the local economy. To effectively promote this
sector, it is important to understand the functioning of the retail market.
The REEP includes an analysis of the primary,
secondary, and tertiary markets in the retail sector. Businesses in the retail
sector have a market orientation to their location strategies. They want to
locate in places that will maximize access to their buyers. Retailers expect
their customers to travel relatively short distances to make purchases.
Different products have different population thresholds and different geographic
areas or ranges. People will travel a longer distance to purchase a piece of
furniture than they will to buy a gallon of milk. In light of the varying ranges
of goods, the retail market can be subdivided into three classifications –
primary, secondary, and tertiary markets.
- The primary market is the market for
convenience items and items that are purchased frequently. Customers are not
willing to travel long distances for these goods; therefore the geographic
market in the primary sector is typically no greater than a five (5) mile
- The secondary market is for goods that are not
purchased frequently and are typically more expensive. Shoppers are willing to
travel and take their time to comparison shop. To compete in this market, West
Chester will have to focus on specialty items, such as women’s apparel and
- The tertiary market is the market for goods
that are sold infrequently and, therefore, require a larger
market threshold and serve larger geographic areas, as customers are usually
willing to travel longer distances to purchase the goods. To capture this
market, West Chester Borough has to function as a destination shopping
location for items such as jewelry, fine art, and specialty gifts.
Ideally, the retail sector in West Chester
Borough would function to serve each of these markets. While the primary market
is functioning well in West Chester, it is important to identify those items in
the tertiary market for which the Borough has a comparative advantage. With this
information, a viable retail positioning strategy and marketing program can be
developed. An advertising program is already underway to promote West Chester as
a destination and as a place to do business.
Main Street's Mission
The overall mission of "Main Street" in West
Chester is to serve all constituencies in the urban center as a hub for
entertainment, specialty and convenience retail, employment, restaurants, art
and culture, professional services, government services, housing, business
services, and nonprofit services. Main Street in West Chester is to enhance the
quality of life and serve as a focus for life in the community.
A.1.b. Economic Development Problems: Reasons
Some of the causes and reasons for economic
development problems in the Borough of West Chester are described below.
Meeting Contemporary Building Code
As with any older commercial buildings, the older structures which do not
conform to contemporary code standards must undergo regular renovation and
demand adaptive reuse. However, 21st Century retail and office
standards may run contrary to the design practices of the 18th and 19th
Centuries. Thus, adaptive reuse becomes limited by historic design features and
expensive to apply in comparison to new construction in vacant areas.
Regional Market Competition
New commercial construction has escalated within the regional market area. This
has the effect of causing local market demand to flatten and the retail sector
to become more competitive. This has marginalized or eliminated traditional
downtown businesses as they have to compete in the regional market.
Limited Space for Business Expansion
Because of the relatively small size of the Borough at 1.8 square miles, the
relatively small area constituting the Town Center and Commercial Service Zoning
Districts, and the limited number of vacant, unoccupied, or underutilized
buildings, business expansion opportunities are limited.
Lack of Economic Development Programs
Although the BID is doing a great job, there is a general lack of economic
development programs that are tailored to small businesses. However, the Chester
County Development Council has a Small Business Assistance Program (It is
on pages G-10 and G-11.) In addition, the private sector needs to continue to
"step up to the plate" and help to stimulate private investment in the Borough.
Lack of Borough Resources to Promote
Although the Borough is doing everything possible to apply for grants for
economic development projects, and to support the BID, the funds from public
entities are somewhat limited for promoting economic development through the
The Downtown receives a lot of wear and tear. Everything from street trees, to
benches, to brick pavers, becomes worn with age (and occasional abuse). Much
attention is given to the Downtown in this Revitalization Plan to brighten the
future of the streetscape as an economic development initiative.
A.1.c. Existing and Relevant Economic
There are a number of existing and relevant
economic development plans which are summarized below.
Market Street Economic Development
This project is part of the business plan for West Chester prepared by the
Business Improvement District Authority, and a continuation of the multi-year
effort by the Borough of West Chester to revitalize its central business
district. The project will address declining and blighting influences along
Market Street from New Street to Railroad Alley – by completing public
infrastructure site improvements, including new, decorative street lights,
sidewalk and curb replacement, limited street resurfacing, stormwater
improvements, street furniture, and signage.
Business Improvement District Five-Year
The Plan is designed to achieve the mission and vision of the West Chester BID.
The BID’s mission is "to create a partnership among business and property owners
to achieve long-term economic growth for business in Downtown West Chester. Its
vision is to make Downtown West Chester a destination for Borough residents,
customers, and visitors, as well as for small and large businesses and
investors. The Plan includes marketing strategies aimed at bringing people and
businesses to Downtown West Chester and improving parking conditions, and
advocacy for downtown business people and for downtown physical improvements.
Retail Enhancement and Expansion Program
The West Chester Retail Enhancement & Expansion Program (REEP), discussed
above in the Retail Mix in West Chester section, was developed by the West
Chester BID to generate the necessary information for an action plan that will
guide the efforts of the BID and the Borough as they seek to create a functional
and viable business mix for the downtown area. The scope of work for this
project is to collect, analyze, and make recommendations to the BID and the
Borough regarding which business categories will have the best chance of
succeeding in the downtown area. Once viable retail categories are identified,
the BID can effectively develop recruitment and retention programs for targeted
A.1.d. Economic Development Actions Taken or
A number of economic development action plans
have already been implemented. The major projects are noted below.
Streetscape Improvement along Gay Street
The "Gay Street Semi-Mall" was constructed in the late 1970s to the mid-1980s.
New street trees and street lights were added between Matlack Street and New
Street, as were brick sidewalks and benches. Parking bays were created where
sidewalks were extended, especially at street intersections. Brick pavers were
also installed at key intersections to form a more graceful system of
The Bicentennial Parking Garage
The new deck parking structure located one-half block south of the Court House
along High Street was constructed in 2000. The structure provides 372 parking
spaces and 4500 square feet of retail and office space. In 2001 it won an award
for "Best Aesthetics in Facility Design" for a parking garage by the
International Parking Institute because of its context sensitive design.
First-floor retail and offices are along the sidewalk as "liner shops" to the
Business Improvement District (BID)
A Business Improvement District (BID) was established as a municipal authority
in 2001. Governed by a Board of Directors and operated by an Executive Director,
the BID will be the primary vehicle to oversee economic development initiatives
in Downtown West Chester. The mission of the BID is "to create a partnership
among business and property owners to achieve long-term economic growth for
business in Downtown West Chester." The primary objectives of the BID program
- increasing customer traffic and sales, to
increase property values
- retaining, expanding, and recruiting viable
- achieving a positive image of downtown
- advocating for the downtown business community
with government agencies.
The BID is currently in the process of developing
marketing and promotional materials, developing programs to attract strong,
stable businesses and investors, helping to fill vacant spaces, and assisting
The BID has developed a retail strategy based on
an understanding of the primary, secondary, and tertiary retail markets
(described above in the discussion of the Retail Enhancement and Expansion
Program). The opportunities to expand are in the primary market and the
Urban Development Action Grant (UDAG)
The $135,000 fund is committed to economic development projects. A total of
$90,000 will be used for economic development loans. There is a loan in place
from this fund to the Turks Head Inn Hotel project.
Local Economic Revitalization Tax
Assistance (LERTA) Act Program
The LERTA program is a three-year real estate tax forgiveness program designed
to stimulate local economic development and to accomplish other revitalization
goals. In West Chester, LERTA was used to help create the fiber-optic loop in
A.1.e. Strengths and Weaknesses of the
Borough s Economic Role
West Chester being centrally located in Chester
County, is well positioned to serve as an entertainment and specialty-shopping
destination. This is in addition to West Chester’s economic role as a center of
government at the Chester County Courthouse, and the center of higher education
with West Chester University.
A.1.f. Suitable Locations for Business
Suitable locations for business development
obviously include existing shops and buildings, as they become available.
Locations for potential, significant business development include the following
- The lots owned by the Borough and General
Sales at the southeast corner of Walnut Street and Chestnut Street.
- The Goodwill Fire Company building at 38-40 E.
Gay Street when the fire company relocates to Bolmar and Union Street.
- The dilapidated building at 40 E. Market
Street (the old "Rubinstein Building").
- The parking lot on the southeast corner of Gay
Street and Darlington Street.
- The former Wilmington Trust/RMB Bank building
at the southeast corner of Market Street and Walnut Street (in the process of
- The private parking lot at 116-118 W. Market
- The building at W. Market Street which
currently houses the Social Security offices when they relocate to a larger
- The former Hoffman Lumber property at Franklin
and Barnard Street and Adams Street.
- The former Integra Medicus Buildings at 515 S.
- The currently redeveloping Alliance
Environmental property on Union Street the south side west of Bolmar Street.
- The underutilized lots on the south side of
the 400 block of E. Gay Street.
- The Wyeth plant site on E. Nields St. if that
Within the downtown area, specifically within the
Downtown Commercial Historic District, vacant, non-rentable buildings represent
an economic blight and drain upon community resources through lost tax revenues,
and possible increased fire, vandalism, and security risks, as well as lost
opportunities for business attraction and development. Two structures have been
identified in the downtown historic district as buildings that are in need of
renovation and adaptive reuse but whose costs for such actions are beyond what
the market may support. These are identified above as sites (3) and (5).
Sites (3) and (5) are considered by the community
to be important downtown buildings and are vital to the downtown’s health. While
the buildings are structurally stable, their previous uses will cause the
adaptive reuse of the buildings to cost more than the market will bear. Further,
decay due to lack of maintenance of the buildings will add cost to any rehab
It is in the community's best interest and desire
to preserve and renovate these structures into viable and economically
contributing buildings. Such projects would include a pro forma analysis and
feasibility study, a revolving loan fund, facade improvement grant program, use
of historic tax credits, and business resource development planning.
A.1.g. Additional Performance Standards to
Assure That Business Development is Compatible With Adjacent Land Uses and
West Chester Borough adopted the updated
Comprehensive Plan in November 2000, and an updated zoning code in November
2001. Coupled with the Historic District regulations, these standards are
sufficient to assure that business development is compatible with adjacent land
use and landscape.
A.1.h. Local Fiscal Structure
A more general concern, albeit one that is more
serious in the long run, relates to the tax structure, and the ability of the
Borough to maintain a level of service in public goods provision. A strong
business community does not translate into increased tax revenue to support
Borough services because West Chester can only tax businesses at a $150.00 per
year flat rate under current state law. Increased property values also do not
immediately translate into increased tax revenue, because property assessments
are not regularly updated to reflect market values. Countywide assessments can
be decades apart.
If an enhanced business community results in an
increased demand for services, the Borough will not have the increased revenue
sources to meet the growing demand. The only source of tax revenue to the
Borough that does increase with economic conditions is the earned income tax
which is paid predominately by residents living in the Borough. This revenue
will increase only with resident wage increases or new residents. This revenue
supports only 21 percent of the Borough budget for services.
These factors create a long-term destabilizing
threat to the economic health of West Chester. While the demand and cost of
providing necessary municipal services such as police protection, fire
protection, codes enforcement, public works, and recreation grow, there is no
corresponding revenue growth to fund the expense. Without the necessary revenue
growth either services will decline or local government taxes will have to be
constantly increased. Both of those outcomes have the effect of making the
community less attractive for residents and business and potentially lead to
Economic development is essential to keeping West
Chester a viable, healthy, livable community into the future. In order to
inflate the tax base, economic development must involve increased intensity of
redeveloped land use and/or an increased number of wage earning residents.
A.2. GENERAL ACTION PLAN
The General Action Plan pertaining to Economic
Development and the Business Improvement District (BID) is reflected on
page 4-13. In addition,
many of the BID Action Plan items are related to Transportation and Streetscape.
Therefore, most of the BID Action Plan items are included in Section C. under
Transportation. Further, there are a few revitalization initiatives that could
be considered as a subcategory of economic development, addressed in this report
in Section F. under "Other Redevelopment Initiatives". These pertain to the
creation of a Redevelopment Authority, the continuation of Brownfield site
redevelopment, and various intergovernmental cooperation measures.
As described earlier, the BID is actively
involved in a number of Downtown initiatives. Most of the BID initiatives and
priorities are established through a questionnaire/survey process that is
organized and administered by the BID Executive Director and staff. Each of the
approximately 300 affected property owners in the BID area is asked for input.
The projects on BID’s "wish list" include many transportation and streetscape
projects listed in Section C. such as: Market Street improvements; Signage
improvements; Trash Receptacle replacement; Brick Sidewalks; Planters; Bus Stop
enhancements; and Landscaping enhancements. These projects have been extensively
discussed over the past three years at numerous BID meetings with Borough
Several of the proposed improvements by BID that
are not related to streetscape or transportation are listed on page 4-13. These
include items such as kiosks, brochures, special events, and cultural
A.2. ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT INITIATIVE
BUSINESS IMPROVEMENT DISTRICT (BID)
GENERAL ACTION PLAN
In addition to the BID initiatives listed in
Section C. under Transportation, other initiatives proposed by BID include:
- Creation of informational kiosks
- Publication of downtown directory and
Additional cultural and arts attractions include:
www.westchesterbid.com with links
Cultural interpretive items recognizing Samuel
Cultural interpretive items recognizing the
influence of the black community
Cultural interpretive items recognizing the
- Creation of public arts events
- Funding for public art projects
- Development of internet presence at
Other economic development tools are featured in
, such as the:
- Facade Improvement Program
- Main Street/Commercial Investment Program
- Small Business Assistance Program
Refer to pages G-6 and G-11 for additional