Chester's City Council is on the verge of acquiring another building, now owned by Delaware County, to house the police station, and the deal is contingent on that acquisition, city officials said.
The developers plan to convert the station, an adjacent District Justice building owned by the county, and possibly a former bank building into 38 units for low-income senior citizens. The total cost of the project, according to city documents, would be almost $4.9 million. The developers would pay the city and county a total of about $1.2 million for the two buildings, according to the Rev. Thomas Jackson, the Chester Redevelopment Authority's executive director. Separate figures for the two purchases were not immediately available.
Chester Police Chief James Clark, who has often complained that the police building is too small and in bad physical condition, praised the move. "This is the beginning of a real commitment to law enforcement in this city," Clark said. "The new building will enable us to provide more services to residents."
Media developer Mark Dambly and the Philadelphia-based Pennrose Properties, partners in Chester Commons Associates, will get a $2.6 million 15-year loan
from Chester's newly freed-up community development block grant program and $718,000 from another federal low-income-housing program. About $6.2 million in community development block grants had been frozen since 1990 by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, pending the resolution of several disputes about how the city was managing the program.
Dambly recently completed the renovation of a 15-unit low-income housing complex in Chester; Pennrose Properties completed a similar project this fall involving 21 units in the city.
The vote to support the project is an about-face for Councilman Charles McLaughlin, who had earlier voiced objections to it. He said Tuesday night that the developers' promise to preserve the historical character of the buildings, and to help maintain the old Chester Courthouse, which is next to the buildings, led him to change his mind. The courthouse, which is the oldest public building in continuous use in the United States, is badly in need of repairs.
McLaughlin said the county had agreed to sell a vacant building at Eighth and Welsh Streets to the city for a new police building. The building, once owned by Bell Telephone, was bought several years ago by the county for $625,000. No price has been set for the building, McLaughlin said, but in previous discussions, the county has indicated a willingness to sell the building for a nominal fee.
The Bell building, Clark said, is much larger, and has better parking available. However, it would need renovation.
Chester's three district justices also will have to find new office and courtroom space; the basement of the Chester Post Office at Fifth Street and Edgmont Avenue has been mentioned as a possible site.