Two major projects, one momentous week
● By Steven Hoffman
There was a frigid, dreary February weekend sandwiched between them, but on back to back weekdays earlier this month, two major projects in southern Chester County reached milestones.
First, on Feb. 8, Oxford Borough officially broke ground on a project that includes a parking garage, a transportation center, and a new administration building. Then, on Feb. 11, Penn Township held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Red Rose Inn to mark the start of much-needed improvements to the Route 796 and West Baltimore Pike intersection.
It’s been nearly five decades since business owners in downtown Oxford identified parking as a need in the face of increased competition from shopping centers and shopping malls that offered ample parking. In the intervening decades there were numerous parking studies and plenty of complaint and debate about parking in the borough.
Similarly, the intersection in Penn Township has long been inadequate. The commercial and residential growth as far back as the 1980s transformed the Penn Township intersection into one of the most inefficient in the entire state.
It’s a coincidence that these two projects that have been in the planning stages for years are getting underway at the same time, but make no mistake, these two major projects taking place in one momentous week illustrate southern Chester County’s continued vibrancy.
The addition of a parking garage in downtown Oxford not only addresses a longtime need for more parking, it could also help the borough attract an anchor tenant or two to the downtown, solidifying the commercial base. Oxford’s revitalization efforts have produced real results, especially in the last decade or so, but a lack of parking in the downtown has long been an impediment to attracting a restaurant or a larger employer to the business district. Now that work has started on the parking garage, Oxford can move on to the next phase of revitalization with the parking garage serving as a catalyst for economic development in the years to come.
It’s no coincidence that several good examples of downtown revitalization can be found right here in Chester County—Kennett Square, West Chester, Phoenixville, and Oxford, among them. The county, since 2002, has allocated approximately $65.5 million to revitalize the urban centers, providing funding for streetscape improvements and infrastructure upgrades. The county provided early funding to Oxford Borough’s parking garage project, helping to move it forward at a critical time. Revitalizing the downtown centers has long been a part of Chester County’s blueprint for balancing economic prosperity with preservation efforts.
Meanwhile, Penn Township has long been a shining example of smart growth. The township became a hub for retirement communities and medical facilities, both of which strengthen the local tax base by generating revenues without adding students to the local school system. The growth of the township necessitated the intersection improvements that are now taking place. Those improvements should not only address the traffic congestion at the most important intersection in the township, they should also allow for more economic development in the immediate area.
Funding from the state was critical for both projects, so critical in fact that it’s very unlikely that either one could be taking place now without it. Local officials in Oxford Borough and Penn Township lauded the efforts of State Rep. John Lawrence and State Sen. Andrew Dinniman for their tireless work in helping their municipalities secure state funding for the projects. The two projects in Oxford Borough and Penn Township are examples of how governments at various levels can work together to maximize returns on investment by helping local municipalities secure the infrastructure improvements that they need to succeed.