New name, new vision: Historic Kennett Square to become Kennett Collaborative11/03/2021 09:50AM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
For the past several decades, the organization Historic Kennett Square has been a driving force behind the progress of Kennett Square through its many events and initiatives, achieved on the strength of its partnerships with several non-profit organizations, businesses and alliances.
Its neighbor-helping-neighbor strategy has catapulted Kennett Square into becoming one of the best small towns in America, and on the heels of this momentum, Historic Kennett Square has given itself a new – and many would say perfect – new name.
At a gathering of nearly 100 local stakeholders from area businesses and the non-profit sector at the “State of the Square” meeting on Oct. 27 at the American Legion in Kennett Square, Historic Kennett Square (HKS) Executive Director Bo Wright announced that the organization is changing its name to Kennett Collaborative.
Wright shared the new organization’s mission statement: “Kennett Collaborative makes Kennett thrive. We intentionally create programs and events that help Kennett become a more beautiful and welcoming community where all can belong and prosper.”
Wright said that the new branding of the organization comes at a critical time for Kennett Square – one whose commitment will reply heavily on continuing to develop partnerships.
“Successful communities are built by many hands, but require leadership and strategic direction, whether they are experiencing rapid growth pressure or trying to fill vacant buildings,” he said. “Without leadership guiding a shared vision, Kennett Square will experience the kind of haphazard growth that destroys its unique character and strong social fabric. Worse, without strategic leadership, too many community members will be left out of economic progress.”
Wright then shared the newly-named organization’s brand promise.
“At Kennett Collaborative, we’re committed to not letting that happen,” Wright added. “We host events to build community and provide thoughtful leadership and expertise in community development as we guide conversations about what we want our community to be and create a shared vision that best serves the entire community.”
“One of Kennett’s greatest resources is its social capital and the connections we have,” said Mary Kay Gaver, Kennett Collaborative’s board vice president. “[The word] ‘Collaborative’ is a dynamic group, a gathering of people working together and supporting each other, and I firmly believe that the best way to build friendships and strong bonds is to work with people on difficult things.
“We want all of you to become our collaborators.”
Wright then shared Kennett Collaborative’s vision.
“We long to see Kennett Square become the most beautiful town in America, where people from different backgrounds, generations and walks of life can afford to live and contribute to the community, where new architecture compliments old, where creativity flourishes and where everyone can belong and prosper.”
During his presentation, Wright tied in the renaming of the organization to an historical timeframe for the revitalization of Kennett Square that began with the formation of the Kennett Square Revitalization Task Force, created 30 years ago by a group of concerned citizens and business leaders. He praised the task force’s work as “a very successful effort, and today, we are all the beneficiaries of all of their hard work, and we now have a thriving community,” he said. “As the town evolved and as the needs evolved, the organization evolved to Historic Kennett Square, once again to serve needs of the community at the time.”
“Today, the needs have changed. Some of the issues we are facing as a community are changing, so we feel like it is time to update that mission and commitment, to look at a refresh for our organization.”
State of the Square
In his State of the Square address, Wright addressed one of the community’s major challenges: The need to address a serious funding gap in Kennett Square
“We have many issues that we are facing as a community,” Wright added. “We have a funding gap. Our needs are much greater than our available resources. We have a alack of alignment between community hopes and visions for what this town could be and the plans, the policies and the investments necessary to make that happen.”
The gaps in Kennett Square don’t end with proper funding, Wright said.
“There is this engagement question,” he said. “Citizens don’t feel heard, leading to apathy, skepticism and blame. They don’t fee a part of the process and on both sides – whether it’s those doing the planning on the borough and the township and the residents.”
Part of the challenge for towns like Kennett Square, Wright said, is finding a proper balance that provides residents with stable services and low taxes while at the same time monitoring incremental increases in population that builds up its tax base in order to pay for increased services.
“You can’t have [those services] without density,” Wright said. “You might say, ‘I want low density and tax cuts.’ Well, you’re going to have services cuts. These are the challenges that we face as a community. You can’t overcome them. These are laws of nature. They are math questions. This is how towns and cities are built, and we have to solve these problems.”
To help address these issues, Kennett Collaborative has launched the KSQ Speaker Series’ “How We Build Matters” that will invite leading experts from across the country to address the challenges – both shared and unique -- that many communities like Kennett Square face regarding what to build and how to build. The series, kicked off in September with a presentation by Wright, discussed the issues of financial sustainability and the wealth generated by creating walkable communities. The series will continue on Nov. 11 with guest speaker Marques G. King, a Detroit-based urban designer, who will present “Getting Out of the Comfort Zone: Why Sustainable Places Need Flexible and Adaptable Zoning.”
“We need a common language to discuss common problems to build common solutions,” Wright said. “That will be the purpose of the KSQ Speaker Series.”
The speaker series is just one economic development program Kennett Collaborative is working on. Wright called the NVF site on the western edge of the borough “the white elephant,” that if constructed will create more affordable housing in the borough.
Addressing the need to increase Kennett Square’s tax base, Wright called for the creation of more starter businesses that will create more opportunity and a means of building wealth. He also called for the development of more green space in the south side of the borough, an extended walkable footprint and developing the Kennett Regional Micro Transit Study to eventually expand transportation options for local residents and workers.
Wright said that when the study is complete, the route would be customized and merged with the Kennett Greenway trail system, and that the system will be accessible, affordable and responsive to community needs.
In addition to unveiling its new name and mission, Kennett Collaborative provided a backdrop of the work it has done over the past few years.
Luke Zubrod of Square Roots Collective gave a summary of the HKS’ Small Business Response Fund that disbursed $281,000 to 61 businesses in the borough and in Kennett Township in 2020, at an average of $4,600 per business – a collaboration between HKS, Square Roots Collective and contributions from more than 200 area residents. Zubrod said that 74 percent of the funds were directed toward women- and minority-owned businesses.
“We knew this thing could last for a little while, so amid that context, we asked the question, “How can our community avoid the flattening of the idiosyncrasies of our neighborhoods?’” Zubrod said. “’How do we help the dream of mom and pop businesses in Kennett Square to not burst?’
“We know that what small businesses went through was not just a financial burden, it was an emotional burden. To know that the community was behind these businesses was an encouragement to a lot of people.”
Kennett Collaborative board member Lorenzo Merino shared how the organization shone critical focus on Latino-owned businesses by posting business profiles on the HKS website that were written by Tara Smith of HKS. Those businesses profiled included Carniceria Camargo, the Garcia Garage, the Ayllon-Ramirez law firm and Bece Landscaping.
“I was happy to put together a group of local business owners, sit down with them and ask important questions such as, ‘How can we help you? What can we do? What are your challenges?’” Merino said. “One of the takeaways I took from someone at those meetings was that there is a lot that the borough already does, but it would be nice for the [Latino business community] to be included.”
Merino shared the story of one business owner who was profiled, who thanked Merino and said that as a result, he has received several compliments from those who have read the article about his business, as well as fielded more requests for his business.
Kennett Collaborative board member Trish Evans shared a few of the social, cultural and placemaking projects the organization has made in the community over the last few years:
· “Kennett Blooms,” a springtime beautification initiative that created floral installations along the Genesis Walkway and at the parklet on Broad Street.
· “Light Up the Square,” a program launched in 2019 that wraps lighting installations around trees along State Street during the holiday season and beyond.
· The Kennett Farmers Market, which welcomes an average of 31 vendors and over 350 shoppers each week.
· “Christmas in Kennett,” a partnership begun with Longwood Gardens in 2014 that connects Longwood visitors during the holiday season to Kennett Square by way of a shuttle to shop and dine. After COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the program in 2020, Evans said that the shuttle will return beginning on Nov. 20.
· The “Kennett Brewfest,” that serves as the organization’s biggest fundraising event that was renamed “The Backyard Brewfest” during COVID-19 in 2020 that encouraged participants to celebrate the fest in their home by purchasing cases of beer from participating vendors.
“I spend a lot of my day thinking about beauty – about how you create beauty, about the importance of beauty in one’s life, about how it’s vital to the human spirit, and I see firsthand the effect that being in a beautiful place has on people every day,” said Evans, who is the Director of Public Relations at Longwood Gardens. “Beauty can be found in inspiring experiences and events. There is beauty in diversity and celebrating it and there is beauty in a supportive, close-knit community. Now imagine that this isn’t just a place that you visit, but it’s a place that you call home.”
A ‘new chapter’
Calling the new name and key initiatives “a new chapter” for Kennett Square, Kennett Collaborative board chair Bob Norris shared with the audience his enthusiasm in seeing a gathering of local leaders of non-profits, agencies and businesses gathered in one place after a year of ZOOM meetings and COVID-19 shutdowns.
“After not being able to do it for so long, it’s thrilling to see neighbors and friends and community supporters and stores and our service folks and public providers,” he said. “Thanks to so many people over the last year and a half who made living in this area special through an incredibly horrendous and difficult time for everyone, regardless of who you were, how old you were, and what community you live in.”
Norris praised the commitment of many who contributed to keeping the lines of communication intact through COVID-19, including the Chester County Commissioners; police, fire, ambulance and EMS services; Square Roots Collective; the Kennett Consolidated School District administration and staff; elected officials in the borough and in Kennett Township; event coordinators; and his fellow members on the Kennett Collaborative board.
“Tonight is about how we’ve gotten through a very tough time as a community, as a nation and as a world,” Norris said, “and how through that adversity as a community we built strength. It’s about how Kennett collaborates.”
Kennett Collaborative is in the process of developing its new website. Until the new website is created, those seeking information about events, businesses and initiatives related to Kennett Square may visit www.historickennettsquare.com.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].