Urban Centers Forum Highlights Destination Towns

Chester County’s urban centers are becoming destination towns where more and more people want to live, work, and visit to enjoy unique experiences offered by breweries and tasting rooms, farmers’ markets, food trucks, and short-term rentals such as Airbnbs and VRBOs.

That was the message that came out of the Chester County Urban Centers Forum on October 8th at the Victory Brewing Company in Parkesburg. Chester County Commissioners Michelle Kichline, Kathi Cozzone, and Terence Farrell highlighted the importance of the urban centers.

“Our urban centers are a key focus within the County and their success is critical to the County’s overall success,” said Commissioners’ Chair Michelle Kichline. “Chester County’s commitment to our boroughs and the City of Coatesville is best reflected by the $68 million of federal and County funds, which have been awarded by the County since 2002 to improve critical infrastructure.”

“Continued revitalization of our urban centers is a core principal of Landscapes3, the update to the County comprehensive plan,” Commissioner Kichline added. “Within Landscapes3, the 15 boroughs and the City of Coatesville remain designated as urban centers with accompanying planning principles to guide activities and future development.”

When asked about the forum, Commissioner Cozzone stated: “This Urban Centers Forum topic – ‘Your Town as a Destination’ – is an exciting one. It is a focus that many of you have embraced and you are already attracting visitors from inside and outside the County, on a regular basis.”

“It is my pleasure to be here – after all, any event held in one of Chester County’s thriving breweries is going to be a great one,” said Commissioner Terence Farrell. “I’d like to thank the team here at Parkesburg Victory for their hospitality. And while I am thanking people, I must include the teams from the Chester County Planning Commission, the Department of Community Development and the Economic Development Council. Together with all of you, we have created a strong partnership that has truly helped everyone to see progress.”

Bill Covaleski and Ron Barchet co-founded Victory Brewing Company in Downingtown in 1996 and now have locations in Parkesburg and Kennett Square. The manufacturing and distribution operation now sells its products in 35 states and six other countries.

“We’re very proud of our home,” said Covaleski. “We’re very appreciative of the water here.”

Kent Steeves of the new Braeloch Brewing in Kennett Square spoke about some of the hurdles people might face when opening a brewery or tasting room. He credited Kennett Square Borough officials for being forward thinking when it comes to welcoming new businesses there.

There are currently about 25 breweries in Chester County with more on the way, according to a County Planning Commission analysis. Pennsylvania is ranked first for volume of craft beer produced in the United States and ranked sixth nationwide for the number of breweries. This industry has a $6.3 billion economic impact on Pennsylvania, which is second only to California.

Lisa O’Neill, owner of Growing Roots, spoke about the benefits of farmers’ markets in Chester County. Her organization currently runs three markets in Chester County and one in Berks County. She said the markets help bring visitors to the boroughs who then patronize the local businesses.

“Our purpose is to breathe life back into the community,” she said.

There are 10 active farmers’ markets in Chester County, six of which are open during the off-season. There are about 8,600 farmers’ markets nationwide, according to a Planning Commission analysis. Farms selling direct-to-consumer are more likely to remain in business. On average, about 13 full-time jobs are created by farms that sell locally per $1 million in revenue created, compared to three jobs for farms without local sales.

County Planning Commission Urban Planner Kevin Myers discussed short-term rentals, which are more commonly known as Airbnb or VRBO rentals. These are residential properties or portions of residential properties that are available for rent on a limited duration basis; there are over 250 of this type of rental in Chester County. Myers said these rentals are popular options in communities with higher lodging demand, thriving business or entertainment districts, seasonal destinations, significant tourism attractions, close proximity to universities, and large special events such as fairs, concerts and festivals.

Myers noted that municipalities should consider some factors before allowing this type of lodging including potential neighborhood opposition, the effects on housing availability and affordability and effects on commercial lodging such as hotels and bed and breakfasts. Myers also provided suggestions for municipalities, such as examining policies and determining methods of regulation such as zoning ordinances or standalone ordinances.

Eric and Elaine Kelleher of On the Roll Food Truck were on hand to discuss the benefits of food trucks in urban centers. “It’s been interesting and it keeps us busy,” said Eric Kelleher.

Kelleher added that he doesn’t believe food trucks take business away from brick-and-mortar restaurants. “We’re not taking business away from them – we’re actually bringing business to them,” he said. “I actually think we complement each other.”

There are dozens of food trucks licensed to operate in Chester County, according to a Planning Commission analysis. The annual food truck sales in the United States equates to over $2 billion.

Chester County Health Department Environmental Health Specialist Carrie Lane spoke about the importance of business owners and municipal officials reaching out to the County Health Department for assistance when opening new restaurants, breweries, and businesses. “It’s vital that we’re involved from the get-go,” she said.

Phoenxiville Borough Planning and Land Development Director and Zoning Officer David Boelker spoke about how consumers have shifted their spending habits toward more online shopping these days versus brick-and-mortar stores. As a result, when people go out in their spare time, “they want experiences,” he said. He highlighted the experiences people can have in Chester County’s boroughs as a result of vibrant downtowns that offer a variety of restaurants, breweries, tasting rooms, farmers’ markets and food trucks.

Urban Centers Forums have been conducted since the development of VISTA 2025, the County’s economic development strategy. The forums are the result of a partnership involving the Chester County Commissioners, the County Department of Community Development, the County Planning Commission, and the Chester County Economic Development Council.

County Planning Commission Executive Director Brian O’Leary noted that his office is implementing projects in Landscapes3 that will help the boroughs and City of Coatesville such as an Urban Centers Design Guide. He said the Vision Partnership Program (VPP) is available for all municipalities in Chester County, including urban centers, to help improve their planning programs while achieving consistency with Landscapes3. The deadline for Chester County municipalities to apply for the second round of the 2019 VPP is 4 p.m. October 25th. View more information about the VPP.

County Department of Community Development Director Pat Bokovitz also noted that now is the time for urban centers to begin coordinating with his staff and Myers on Chester County Community Revitalization Program (CRP) grant opportunities for infrastructure improvements. He said that next application process will begin in the spring.

CRP projects are “all important in their own way whether they are visible (above ground) or invisible (below ground),” Bokovitz said, adding that the program is connected to Landscapes3 because it directs appropriate growth to the County’s urban centers.

View more information about the CRP. Municipalities also can sign up for alerts about community development grants by contacting Department of Community Development Planning Supervisor Shaun Bollig at sbollig@chesco.org

View fact sheets about destination towns.