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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.

Labor Force

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 University.

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 manufacturing.

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.

Employment Base
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

Employer Name Number of Employees*
West Chester University 2,782
Chester County Hospital 1,748
Chester County Courthouse 958
YMCA of Central Chester County 467
ARAMARK Food & Supply Service 445
Wyeth Ayerst Pharmaceutical 443
Adecco Employment Services, Inc. 443
West Chester Area School District 244
Borough of West Chester 238
Total 7,768

* (Includes full-time, part-time, and seasonal employees)
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 Business Uses
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 before 1900.

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 Appendix C-2.

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:

  1. vacant and available (ready to rent);
  2. vacant and unavailable (possible to rent but unlisted); and
  3. 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 Downtown.

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 radius.
  • 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 shoes.
  • 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 and Causes

Some of the causes and reasons for economic development problems in the Borough of West Chester are described below.

Meeting Contemporary Building Code Standards
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 referenced in
Appendix G 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 Economic Development
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 public sector.

Declining Infrastructure
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 Development Plans

There are a number of existing and relevant economic development plans which are summarized below.

Market Street Economic Development Project
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 Plan
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 segments.

A.1.d. Economic Development Actions Taken or Underway

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 crosswalks.

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 new building.

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 include:

  • increasing customer traffic and sales, to increase property values
  • retaining, expanding, and recruiting viable businesses
  • achieving a positive image of downtown parking, and
  • 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 established businesses.

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 tertiary market.

Urban Development Action Grant (UDAG) Fund
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 town.

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 Development

Suitable locations for business development obviously include existing shops and buildings, as they become available. Locations for potential, significant business development include the following sites:

  1. The lots owned by the Borough and General Sales at the southeast corner of Walnut Street and Chestnut Street.
  2. The Goodwill Fire Company building at 38-40 E. Gay Street when the fire company relocates to Bolmar and Union Street.
  3. The dilapidated building at 40 E. Market Street (the old "Rubinstein Building").
  4. The parking lot on the southeast corner of Gay Street and Darlington Street.
  5. The former Wilmington Trust/RMB Bank building at the southeast corner of Market Street and Walnut Street (in the process of redevelopment).
  6. The private parking lot at 116-118 W. Market Street.
  7. The building at W. Market Street which currently houses the Social Security offices when they relocate to a larger facility.
  8. The former Hoffman Lumber property at Franklin and Barnard Street and Adams Street.
  9. The former Integra Medicus Buildings at 515 S. Franklin Street.
  10. The currently redeveloping Alliance Environmental property on Union Street the south side west of Bolmar Street.
  11. The underutilized lots on the south side of the 400 block of E. Gay Street.
  12. The Wyeth plant site on E. Nields St. if that plant closes.

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 projects.

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 Landscape

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 urban decline.

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.


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 involvement.

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 interpretation programs.


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 informational brochures

Additional cultural and arts attractions include:

Other economic development tools are featured in Appendix G , 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 details.


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Table of Contents
Process Overview
A. Economic Development
B. Housing
C. Infrastructure
D. Emergency Services
E. Parks and Recreation
F. Other Redevelopment Initiatives
G. Funding
H. Action Plan
I. Project Plan
J. Program Plan
K. Appendices

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