Kennett Square Borough Council discusses revolving loan fund opportunities
● By Steven Hoffman
Kennett Square Borough officials are in the process of making decisions about the administration of its revolving loan fund, a tool to help encourage economic development in town.
At the Oct. 3 borough council meeting, Kennett Square borough manager Joseph Scalise provided an update to council about the revolving loan fund, and there was a lengthy discussion about how the borough can maximize the impact of the funding that's available to attract new businesses or grow existing ones.
The borough initially worked with restaurateur Jack McFadden to secure a $500,000 economic development grant from the state about nine years ago. Those funds were allocated to refurbish the former Kennett Cafe site at 120 East State Street, where McFadden planned to open an upscale restaurant. The state grant that was attained by the borough allowed Kennett Square to allocate the money for a specific anchor project in the downtown business district. As the money was paid back to the borough, Kennett Square would then have those funds to reinvest in the community with another economic development project. The renovation project at 120 East State Street did not go as planned—the restaurant never opened. But the funding did allow McFadden to undertake extensive renovation work on the building. A new owner is currently working to bring new life to the building at 120 East State Street. The borough now has most of the initial grant money back to allocate for other projects.
The question for Kennett Square officials is how will they decide which projects to utilize the revolving loan fund for?
Mary Hutchins, the executive director of Historic Kennett Square, has been researching how other Pennsylvania municipalities have handled similar revolving loan funds. She said that it would be helpful to utilize Seedcopa, which works with economic development partners throughout Pennsylvania, as a third-party organization to evaluate whether a particular business has the necessary credit to qualify for funding. That would be a preliminary step. There would also need to be a more thorough review of the business plans to evaluate the merits of each project. It would cost an applicant approximately $2,500 to have the application reviewed by Seedcopa.
Council members had a number of ideas and concerns about the administration of the revolving loan fund.
Several council members talked about the need to make sure that there is a fair process in place for businesses to apply for the funding.
Council member Ethan Cramer said that one imperative is to make sure that funding would be available to Latino business owners.
There was a discussion about whether borough officials should at least give a cursory review of an application before it is formally submitted as a way to ensure that a potential project is viable. For example, if a potential business owner is seeking to open a business that would not be a good fit for the borough, or if someone is looking to open a business that doesn't conform to the borough's current regulations, there would be little need to submit an application. A few council members liked the idea of some sort of “pre-approval,” while several others said that they favored a more open application process. If someone applied for the funding for a project that was destined to get rejected during the approval process, so be it.
Hutchins said that it would be very appropriate for the borough to require a business plan to be submitted to ensure the viability of a project.
“We want the money back,” Hutchins said. “We want to be able to have it so we can keep loaning it back out.”
Toward the end of the discussion, council president Dan Maffei said that there seemed to be a consensus that it is best to have a third party, such as Seedcopa, to oversee the vetting process for the applications. He also said that it seemed as if a majority of council agreed that there should be a written process for applicants to follow. Additionally, the borough's Finance Committee will be developing a list of some of things that the borough would want to see from a project receiving funding. Job creation, for example, would be a major positive for a project, as would rehabilitating a building that needs it.
In other business at the Oct. 3 meeting, mayor Matthew Fetick administered the oath of office to two new part-time police officers, Kevin Thompson and Miguel Juarez.
“We’ve got two great candidates that we look forward to working with,” Fetick said.
Fetick also reminded everyone that a Public Safety Forum is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 11 at 7 p.m. in the lower atrium of the Genesis HealthCare Building at 101 East State Street in Kennett Square.
In her report about Historic Kennett Square, Hutchins said that, despite the rainy weather, there was a good turnout for the annual Kennett Brewfest on Oct. 1.
She also talked about the memorandum of understanding that borough council approved with Longwood Gardens. Each Saturday between Nov. 26 and Dec. 17, a shuttle will run between Kennett Square and Longwood Gardens to accommodate visitors to the area. The shuttle will run from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. in Kennett Square. The last shuttle back from Longwood Gardens will depart at 10 p.m.
Richard Lyon, the chairman of the Kennett Area Park Authority (KAPA) reported that CMC Engineering has completed the project design phase of the new entranceway to the Anson B. Nixon Park. Installation of the new entranceway is slated to begin later this year or early next year.
Lyon also said that KAPA is creating a new strategic plan with the help of a consultant. KAPA is also asking residents to complete a survey to help identify how the park meets community needs, and to help the organization develop a vision for the next five to ten years. This information will be utilized in the development of the strategic plan.
In the report regarding the Kennett Area Park and Recreation Board, Claire Finfrock, the recreation coordinator, said that the renovation project on Herb Pennock Park is continuing. Funding from Kennett Township, the Kennett Area Park and Recreation Board, the Borough of Kennett Square, Constellation, Suburban Realtors Alliance, Kennett Run Charities, the Mushroom Festival, and more than 60 local companies helped pay for the successful installation of a new playground. The playground features five sliding boards, play apparatus, and play stations.
An effort is underway to plant new trees at Pennock Park, with funding for this initiative coming from the E. Kneale Dockstader Foundation Grant and Genesis HealthCare.
Borough council signed off on a series of Historic Architecture Review Board applications. The approvals include a new sign and awnings at 112 South Broad, an exterior renovation of a garage at 218 Marshall Street, a new fence at 401 West Sickle, and renovation to the porch area at 129 West Linden.
Kennett Square Borough Council appointed Stephanie Everett, the first alternate member of the borough's Civil Service Commission, to serve as a regular member of that three-person board. This appointment was made necessary when Anthony DeFazio, a regular member of the Civil Service Commission, tendered his resignation, effective Sept. 22. Everett's current term expires on Jan. 1, 2020. The borough is seeking candidates to serve as alternate members on the Civil Service Commission.
Borough council also accepted the resignation of Tony Gomez, the Kennett High School student who had served as a junior council member for the last two years.