Smaller suburbs like Honey Brook work to revitalize

Posted: August 21, 2014

Honey Brook Borough has been busy installing decorative sidewalks and curbs, period-style lighting fixtures, and plants in its downtown for more than a year. It plans to repave its main street. And the borough of about 1,700 people wants the rest of Chester County, and especially businesses, to know about it.

Boroughs in Chester County with relatively small populations and limited resources are hoping to revitalize their business districts, as Phoenixville and West Chester have been able to do.

"There are some that are right on their heels that are smaller and making an impact and utilizing resources very well," said Patrick Bokovitz, director of the county's Department of Community Development.

Like smaller communities such as Honey Brook and West Grove, West Chester has been working toward revitalization using dedicated volunteers. But it also had the resources it needed to make the borough's vision a reality, said Ernie McNeely, who served as West Chester's borough manager for 27 years.

In the many years of working to give its downtown area a face-lift, West Chester discovered an important piece of the revitalization process that many towns overlook, McNeely said.

"We learned you couldn't just put in the lamps and trees and fancy new sidewalks, and people would come and you'd have a successful business district," said NcNeely, now manager of Lower Merion Township in Montgomery County.

Towns need to market themselves.

West Chester was able to hire someone to promote the borough and find new businesses. The borough was able to bring in a flood of businesses, restaurants, residential units, and the Hotel Warner.

West Chester recruited Iron Hill Brewery to come to the borough, which was a morale booster and the catalyst for much of the change that followed, said Malcolm Johnstone, executive director of the West Chester Business Improvement District. He said the organization helps promote the downtown area as a "walkable historic community."

"Things in the 1990s were pretty dismal," Johnstone said. Businesses were closing or leaving to follow commercial growth elsewhere. "West Chester had to reinvent itself," he said.

Last month, the county gave out its latest round of grants to boroughs and cities for revitalization projects through its Community Revitalization Program, which started in 2002. The program is part of the county's larger plan to do what it can to help municipalities attract businesses and people.

West Grove, a community of about 2,800, has gotten more than $4.8 million for improvements to roadways, streetlights, sidewalks, and drainage systems.

"We've basically done a lot of work that costs a lot of money that we would not have been able to do unless we got the urban centers grants," Borough Manager Sharon Nesbitt said.

West Grove budgeted $1,500 this year for advertising and printing costs.

Ron Rosciolo, Honey Brook's Borough Council president, acknowledged that his borough is also "somewhat limited in our resources." The borough budgeted $4,000 this year for advertising and printing, much of which goes toward notifying residents of public meetings and making copies of ordinances.

"I'd like to have a committee started to advertise and promote the community," Rosciolo said.

The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission considers four Chester County communities - West Chester, Phoenixville, Kennett Square, and Oxford - to be "Classic Towns." The commission promotes these and other older towns in the Philadelphia area to try to bring in more people and businesses.

Rosciolo said he planned to see how he could get Honey Brook Borough onto the list.

610-313-8207 @MichaelleBond

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