West Chester trustees table activity center sale, library expansion votes

Now that the giant Kroger Marketplace deal is dead, West Chester trustees were supposed to approve selling the Activity Center and an engineering contract for a potential MidPointe Library expansion, but they pushed the pause button Tuesday.

Trustee Mark Welch told the Journal-News when he learned the items were up for a vote for the Tuesday meeting he asked administration to pull the $627,000 library engineering contract and move hiring North Ridge Realty Group to after they could interview the group in executive session.

The library item was removed and will be discussed during budget talks early next year. The Activity Center sale was tabled.

“I said come on, this is like Nancy Pelosi saying let’s pass this and then we’ll read it,” Welch said. “I said let’s meet with them and ask questions and then if everything is copacetic we can either after executive session or at the next meeting pull the trigger on it and that’s what we did.”

The trustees have been mulling options for creating community gathering space and the Activity Center and library expansion were the main options. A group of seniors have been begging the trustees to provide them space since 2019 when Community First, which ran senior programming at the center, decided not to renew its lease, and the township chose to sell the property.

The trustees had a $1.8-million purchase agreement with Regency Centers so a giant Kroger Marketplace could be built, but the deal fell through last summer. The trustees had a meeting with Regency and Kroger recently but Welch said as far as he is concerned negotiations are over because they are still asking the township to pay for some of the necessary infrastructure improvements that could cost as much as $2 to $4 million.

“They basically want to come back for a redo with pretty much the same conditions and I’m going to say no, I’m not doing it, I’ll vote against it every time,” Welch said. “You know you guys had no skin in the game, you dragged this along and then because you thought it was going to impact your profitability you let the deal die.”

There is a TIF in that area but it only contains about $100,000 and increased property taxes from the improvement could take 20 years to recoup the money the township would spend on road and other improvements.

Trustee Ann Becker agreed they have haggled too long with the grocery giant.

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 September 2020. Regency cancelled the deal just before the payment would have been due but there have been intermittent discussions since then.

“They want help with the roads and they want help with the drainage and they want quite a bit of an investment from the community,” Becker said. “We don’t have the money and there’s only a small TIF there, so it would be general fund money we’d be using for this, it’s not our job to build grocery stores. We want to be accommodating for development but there comes a point where it doesn’t make sense for the taxpayers.”

Regency did not respond to requests for comment.

Welch still isn’t sure they should sell the Activity Center, he said he is “in a valley of decision” because he thinks the building has some “functionality” and the $3.4 million restoration rough estimate is high. He said he is willing to put it on the market to see what happens.

He also noted unlike typical resolutions which only require a simple majority to pass, selling the center would need to be unanimous.

The township has been considering three options to provide the seniors and others meeting space: renovating the Activity Center, installing heat and air conditioning in the Muhlhauser Barn so the seniors could use the lower level and the estimated $5.5 million MidPointe Library expansion.

Welch doesn’t want to expand the library but Becker and Trustee Lee Wong favor that option. Becker said they tabled the library engineering contract but they believe they must bid the project. Wong said he also wants to sell the Activity Center, “we definitely want to get more bang for the buck, to sell it or for a business decision that brings more tax dollar to the residents.”

He wouldn’t explain further what he had in mind but said “there’s a lot of options to bring tax dollar besides Kroger.”

Despite the advanced notice the trustees would be taking action on two of the options for senior gathering space, the senior group that has been at trustee meetings religiously wasn’t there. Nancy and Jack Williams spearheaded the group and she told the Journal-News they have “given up” on the trustees giving them a place to meet.

“We’ve pretty much given up on that,” she said about the Activity Center. “We absolutely love the Boys and Girls Club, we love the place, it’s awesome.”

She said they will also be starting to meet at the library on Fridays come January and they believe they have an option for the summer, when they can’t meet at the Boys and Girls Club. She said “for right now” things are good.

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