A new Kroger Marketplace could end West Chester seniors’ plans for gathering space again

The West Chester Twp. trustees are again meeting with Kroger's landlords to discuss selling the former Activity Center.
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The West Chester Twp. trustees are again meeting with Kroger's landlords to discuss selling the former Activity Center.

A deal with Kroger to build a giant Marketplace store that appeared to die last year may be back on, which could dash the hopes of a group of seniors who want dedicated space for them to gather.

West Chester Twp. was all set to sell the former Activity Center for $1.8 million to Regency Centers, which is Kroger’s landlord at the corner of Tylersville and Cox roads, a year ago. The deal fell through but Trustee Lee Wong told the Journal-News “Regency is not dead yet they are coming back again.”

“It’s going to be very strict this time,” Wong said. “Now we know what to do, you’ve got so many days to perform, you don’t have it get out, I’m done with you.”

There were many moving parts and parties involved in trying to build a new 117,166-square-foot Marketplace. The deal was contingent on Regency Centers being able to acquire the Activity Center, the Providence Bible Fellowship church, a sliver from Chesterwood Village and easements and agreements with about 10 other property owners to complete the complicated deal.

The trustees gave Regency an extension of the timeline that was set in the purchase agreement to March 2020. The company had 90 days to acquire the church and Chesterwood properties and six months to complete due diligence. However three 90-day extensions could be requested at a cost of $50,000 each. The trustees agreed to amend the contract giving Regency another six months with $100,000 due last September.

Trustee Ann Becker said they have a meeting scheduled with Regency and a Kroger representative and she agreed they won’t be as patient this time.

“If they want it they need to move forward,” she said. “No six month deals on this one. We got kind of drug along last time and I’m not interested in that.”

Trustee Mark Welch wouldn’t say whether the trustees are going to be meeting with Regency, but he too said if they do, it’s going to be a short negotiation.

“If I were a betting man, if we did have another conversation with Kroger they probably couldn’t meet my personal demands,” Welch said. “And that personal demand is 10 days, cash, yours, and you figure it out. That’s if there is conversations that would be had, but I’m not going to be dragged back through this thing again. I’d just as soon fix the place up and use it as a true activity community center.”

ExploreWest Chester seniors angry, want township action on new gathering place

Ryan Ertel, a consultant for Regency who has been negotiating the deal said he couldn’t discuss it.

The Activity Center is at the center of an ongoing debate amongst the three trustees and a group of seniors who were ousted when the township decided to sell it after the Community First stopped running senior programming in 2019.

The seniors were out in force Tuesday night demanding yet again that the trustees do something to get them a space to gather. Nancy and Jack Williams who have been leading the charge for the seniors told the trustees “the center was closed in ‘19 we have made no progress, none, zero,” she said.

Three options have been discussed, the Activity Center, the Muhlhauser Barn basement and expanding the MidPointe Library to create more space for the entire community.

Becker and MidPointe Executive Director Travis Bautz pitched the county commissioners last week to spend $4 million of its $74.4 million to help build an $8 million addition on the West Chester library branch. The plan includes also using $4 million from the Union Centre Boulevard TIF. So far the commissioners have received about $138 million in ARP funding requests. They have not yet begun to allocate any money.

If the Activity Center isn’t sold, Welch told the Journal-News it would be a more fiscally responsible option for the seniors. He said it would cost far less to renovate the Activity Center than $4 million or more for the library expansion. He said it would require a staffer to manage the building and a non-profit to run senior programs.

“That person would pay for themselves,” he said. “This facility would be for rent just like Muhlhauser Barn is and the seniors would have a place.”

All three trustees have said they are not in the social services business.

“One of the reasons West Chester Twp. works as well as it does is we stay in our lane,” Becker said. “We know what we do best, which is making sure your fires are put out, your emergency services come, the police come when they’re called, we put in infrastructure, that’s our job, that’s what we do, we don’t do social services. We don’t, that’s not our purview.”

When the Journal-News told Williams about the potential Kroger sale she said “we’re going to have to regroup and decide what to do” but added whatever happens the seniors must have a seat at the planning table.