Surge Afoot In Kennett Square Genesis Health Ventures Headquarters Might Be A Catalyst.

Posted: March 07, 1997

KENNETT SQUARE — The sleepy streets of the business district here will wake this spring to the welcome din of construction.

Genesis Health Ventures, which is holding a groundbreaking for its new $17 million headquarters this afternoon, might be the most ambitious builder, and its commitment to the borough has generated a boom in building projects. Store owners and borough officials see the glint of the first shovels as a sign of changing times.

``I've been in this borough since 1950 except for college and the service, and this is the most exciting thing that I've seen,'' Council President Kenneth Roberts said this week.

Genesis Health Ventures' decision in July 1995 to build its new headquarters in the borough was a windfall for Kennett Square because the easier decision would have been to build in a corporate office park, said Gary Smith, executive director of the Chester County Development Council.

``To my knowledge, there has never been another company that has actually made an investment [equal] to the size of Genesis within an urban setting here in Chester County,'' Smith said. ``This is a very first-of-a-kind.''

The investment almost did not happen, said Mike Walker, chairman and chief executive officer of Genesis, which specializes in geriatric care. ``We'd actually negotiated the acquisition of a site right outside Kennett Square,'' he said. ``We didn't do that in the end because there was a real commitment by the borough government and the state government to help us find a solution within Kennett Square.''

Genesis, which has grown rapidly and now has about 150 nursing facilities, started in the borough in 1985 at its current site on West State Street.

In addition to the new headquarters, Genesis will keep its current site as a technology and computer center. The company also has bought the C&J Clark Shoes store at South and Broad Streets to house its managed-care division. Shoes will still be sold on the second floor for three years. Afterward, Genesis will occupy that floor.

The company plans to employ about 700 people in the borough, including its current workforce of about 300. That would mean $280,000 a year in personal-income taxes for the borough, based on a tax rate of 1 percent and an average salary of $40,000, Walker said.

Genesis gets some tax breaks for the first few years, but will give the borough $30,000 in annual real estate revenue within seven years, said Borough Manager Douglas Marguriet.

Borough officials hope the construction will attract other businesses, generating more revenue for the borough.

Genesis agreed to build its headquarters in the borough on the condition that the borough provide enough parking for its employees. The borough's solution was a $4.5 million, 350-space parking garage, scheduled for completion in January 1998. In November, Chester County Court upheld the borough's decision to issue bonds for the garage without holding a referendum.

To clear a space for the garage, construction workers are removing two water towers and building a new one a few blocks away at a cost of about $1 million.

The borough received a $1 million grant from the state Commerce Department for streetscape improvements along State Street to create a Victorian flavor, complete with gas lamps and brick sidewalks.

And a $5.2 million YMCA is planned for the eastern end of the borough, in Race Street Park. Although those plans were not influenced by Genesis' decision, ``we feel very positive about Genesis coming in,'' said Gary Green, director of the YMCA of Central Chester County. The YMCA will open in early 1998.

All of these investments taken together total more than $28 million in improvements for Kennett Square. ``And that does not include some of the restaurants and stores coming into the borough,'' said Roberts, the council president.

Genesis - described by some store owners as a ``magnet'' for revitalization - already has attracted several businesses. Three restaurants will open in the borough in the spring and fall.

Jim Semetti, owner of the Wing It Deli, plans to open the Kennett Ale House in late fall, featuring steaks, pasta dishes and baby back ribs. ``My wife and I just feel that this town is going to explode in the next few years,'' he said.

Even the specter of a Wal-Mart - approved with strict conditions last month just up the road in East Marlborough - apparently is not quelling high spirits in Kennett Square. Borough Council member Jeffrey Norman said merchants would focus on specialty shops to lessen the impact of the discount store.

``Wal-Mart served as a catalyst for Kennett Square devising a strategy. . . . We aim to coexist successfully in the modern world,'' said Bert Sklar Proscino, owner of Brush & Palette and cochairman of a revitalization task force.

While Kennett Square sweeps into the future, though, community activists are determined to preserve the best of the past.

A tower clock that stood downtown for almost 60 years will rise again, this time atop the Genesis corporate complex in the center of town. The clock has been in a warehouse since it was taken down in 1965 from its State Street home at the former Kennett Auditorium, now an open lot owned by CoreStates Bank.

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