A ‘groundbreaking’ moment for Oxford Borough
● By Steven Hoffman
So many people played a role in supporting the multimodal transportation center project, there weren’t enough shovels to go around as Oxford Borough held a groundbreaking ceremony on Feb. 8 to officially mark the start of construction on a new 300-space parking garage.
Local, county, and state officials hailed the project as a catalyst for economic development and commercial growth in the coming years as Oxford Borough continues its revitalization efforts.
“Downtown Oxford is on the verge of a hard-earned economic revival,” Oxford Borough Council president Susan Lombardi told the dozens of people who gathered in the parking lot between Second Street and Third Street for the groundbreaking ceremony. “More parking and improved transportation amenities are needed to continue economic growth in the borough. As we continue to work for the betterment of Oxford, this groundbreaking ceremony affords us a unique opportunity to bring attention to the revitalization of the Borough, and to spotlight all that the downtown has to offer to everyone who lives and works in the region.”
Oxford Borough Mayor Lorraine Durnan Bell, who served as the master of ceremonies for the event, said: “This town, our town, has so much greatness going on now, and even more positive growth in the future, and we are here to witness one more step in our economic growth. This is a major step for Oxford.”
Bell was one of several speakers who referenced the fact that Oxford Borough has been talking about the need for parking in the business district not for years, but for decades. She explained that when her family moved to Oxford in 1972, it was a topic of discussion even then. Bell said that it took visionaries to get the Route 1 Bypass built to pave the way for commercial and residential growth in southern Chester County. Similarly, Bell said, it took vision to see how the multimodal transportation center would meet the needs of the borough.
“Today,” Bell said, “we have many visionaries. Today, we help to strengthen and grow our town. Today, we begin again.”
Lombardi and Bell both thanked state and county officials who were responsible for helping the borough secure more than half the funding needed for the $7 million project. State Sen. Andrew Dinniman, State Rep. John Lawrence, and Chester County Commissioners Michelle Kichline, Terence Farrell, and Kathi Cozzone have been ardent supporters of the project.
Lombardi said that Dinniman and Lawrence have been steadfast champions of the borough, while the Chester County Commissioners provided early support for the project that helped move it forward at an important stage.
“We would not be breaking ground today without the support of the funders,” Lombardi said.
Several state and county officials spoke about the importance of the project at the groundbreaking ceremony.
“It’s an exciting day for the Borough of Oxford,” said State Rep. John Lawrence, who took part in dozens of meetings about the parking garage in recent years. He recalled growing up in nearby Landenberg, and frequently visiting Oxford when he was a child. Even then, he was aware that people were saying that Oxford needed more parking.
“Today,” Lawrence said, “we’re taking action.”
Lawrence thanked National Penn Bank and BB & T Bank for their contributions to the project. Oxford Borough negotiated a deal with National Penn Bank to purchase a large portion of the lot where the parking garage is being built for one dollar. National Penn Bank was then acquired by BB&T Bank, which now honors the agreement. The borough also acquired a small piece of the property from Verizon, and Lawrence thanked that company for its support of the project, too.
Michelle Kichline, the chair of the Chester County Board of Commissioners, said that revitalizing a downtown center like Oxford Borough is an important component of Vista 2025, a public-private partnership that is focused on creating and implementing an economic development strategy throughout the county. She noted that the county has allocated $65.5 million in funding since 2002 for revitalization efforts in the urban centers throughout the county. Of that $65.5 million, Oxford Borough has received approximately $5.6 million, including more than $1 million for the parking garage.
“We at the county level are focused on investing in urban centers to balance preservation with prosperity,” said County Commissioner Terence Farrell.
Kichline commended borough officials, including Oxford Borough Council, for taking the steps necessary to revitalize the downtown—including making the commitment to a large project like a parking garage.
“Oxford is preparing for a downtown that will prosper,” Kichline said.
Lining up the funding for the project has been a priority for the last three years. Lombardi said that many people have worked hard locally to advance the project, including business owners, current borough manager Brian Hoover, former borough manager Betsy Brantner, the Oxford Borough staff, Mayor Bell, and OMI executive director Brian Wenzka and former OMI executive director Donna Hosler.
Bell thanked Pauline Garcia-Allen, who served as a consultant throughout the planning process. She helped the borough secure a number of state and county grants. Oxford officials also worked closely with state and county officials throughout the project’s planning process. Approximately $3.6 million in state and county grants were awarded to the borough to support the facility’s construction.
“State Senator Dinniman, and State Representative Lawrence and the Chester County Commissioners have been steadfast champions of the revitalization of downtown Oxford,” said Brian Hoover, the borough manager. “We reach this important milestone in large part because of their support and due to the funding they secured through PennDOT, the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development and the Chester County Department of Community and Economic Development.”
An anonymous donor also contributed more than $1 million for the new borough administration building more than a decade before the multimodal transportation center project was even being considered. When a new administration building was included in the project, those funds were then available for the borough’s use.
Ryan Emerson, the director of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, said that this was exactly the type of project that the department wanted to be supportive of when a multimodal transportation fund was established in 2014. Oxford Borough applied for a grant in 2016, and ended up receiving $540,000 in grant funding.
“Collaboration is the key to projects like this one,” said Emerson, explaining that the parking garage will be a catalyst for economic development. “I’m excited to come back and see the borough’s downtown and hear the stories about the impact that this project has had on Oxford.”
Timothy Phelps, the executive director of the Transportation Management Association of Chester County, said that parking is a key issue for any community to address. He noted that, in the future, the multimodal transportation center in Oxford will also open up opportunities for increased public transportation in southern Chester County, so that local residents have a transportation connection to the region.
The facility that is being built will be a four-level parking structure, with integrated bus services, and approximately 2,700 square feet of interior space that will become the new borough administration building. The 100,000-square-foot garage is an open, long span, precast structure that consists of a single helix with two-way drive aisles and 90-degree parking stalls. Designed to match the aesthetic of nearby historic buildings, the transportation center will also feature a surface parking lot, park-n-ride capabilities, and a shuttle bus stop. The Harman Group is providing structural engineering and parking consultant services for the transportation center. West Chester-based Krug Architects has handled the design work.
In addition to providing adequate and convenient parking for visitors to the downtown who want to shop in the stores or dine in the restaurants, the parking garage is also expected to boost attendance at many of the events that Oxford Borough plans throughout the year. Another major reason for the parking garage is to attract a larger employer or more restaurants to the downtown. A lack of parking has long been an obstacle to attracting developers who might want to invest in the downtown.
Brian Wenzka said that interest in properties in the business district has increased since it became clear that the borough is moving forward with the parking garage project. He noted during his speech that Oxford recently welcomed its 36th new business in the downtown since 2012, and said that parking infrastructure is necessary to continue to grow the business district.
Farrell, who grew up in the Oxford area and has strong ties to the community, said that the community has done a good job of utilizing the more than $5 million in grant funding from the county to enhance Oxford’s business district.
“The revitalization continues to progress,” Farrell said.
Longtime council members like Lombardi, John Thompson, and Ron Hershey were all smiles during the groundbreaking ceremony, having devoted many, many hours to the planning of the project.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Hershey said, “I think it will move Oxford to the next level.”
Now that the project has reached this point, Hoover said, things will start to move very quickly. Work on cleaning up the parking lot and preparing it to serve as a construction site will start right away. By the week of Feb. 25, work on the foundation of the facility should be started. Construction of the parking garage could be completed by Thanksgiving if all goes well. Then, work on the interior spaces, including the new borough administration building, could be finalized by February of 2020.
Meanwhile, the borough still has two applications for additional grant funding already filed. It will be a busy year ahead, but borough officials were clearly elated that the largest economic development project in the borough’s history has reached this point.
“I’m excited,” Hoover said.
For more information about the project, please visit oxfordboro.org