Redevelopment in Coatesville for real this time

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Announcements this week signal best opportunity in a generation

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

UTMikeColLogoCOATESVILLE — Finally, for once in a city plagued by misfires, the rhetoric and reality appear to be merging.

This week’s announcement that real redevelopment is planned at the corner of First Avenue and Lincoln Highway — 40 to 60 apartments along with retail space — is the first tangible proof that maybe this comeback, this new revitalization effort isn’t going to dissolve like so many of the mirages of the past.

And word is coming out, that if that first phase of development goes well — and that means the city getting out of the way assuming the developer meets all zoning and construction code rules as well being able to attract tenants — neighboring properties could be added, sparking something of a redevelopment boom.

Sure, all of this might not be happening without the specter of the new train station, a short stroll up the hill from Lincoln Highway, but suddenly, say by 2020, it’s not so hard to see the real beginnings of a thriving new community and burgeoning commercial center.

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With announcements this week, it is this block, at First Avenue and Lincoln Highway, that could signal the real start of redevelopment in Coatesville, starting with apartments and retail at 101-109 Lincoln Highway.

If things get moving on the north side of Lincoln Highway, it seems pretty likely that the old National Bank of Chester Valley building, a true diamond in the rough, will be prime real estate for redevelopment, as office, retail and restaurant space. And when those dominoes fall, it’s hard not to seeing the revitalization working its way eastward.

Still, though, before the city becomes the home of hip coffee joints, brew pubs and eateries, those who would patronize such places — be they new young adults moving into the new apartments, or folks from neighboring communities such as Caln, Downingtown and yes, even Unionville — need to be assured of two things: they can park their cars easily and they will be safe when visiting.

Interestingly, it is the former — parking — that has almost undone the revitalization efforts in places such as West Chester, Kennett Square and Phoenixville. Even now, despite the multitude of options in West Chester, many folks in Unionville won’t go to dinner there because the parking is too complicated, the maze of one-way roads too confusing and the crush of college students intimidating.

A parking garage needs to be in the master plan for the area.

Crime is, and has been, a bigger concern in the city than in those places, though. So, not only will folks know they have a place to park their cars, they’ll need to feel confident that they’ll be in once piece when they walk back and they’ll be safe walking to them.

Still, perception — especially once you get out where the sidewalks disappear — is that the city has a lot of crime. Maybe that’s partially our fault, too. Maybe we don’t need to run headlines for every report of a shot fired, or a car broken into — it’s possible there’s a more responsible way to provide coverage without going overboard. It is something we’re going to be looking at in the coming weeks.

But the reality on the ground may not match what people think.

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This old gem of a building, the former National Bank of Chester Valley, could become a cornerstone of redevelopment efforts in Coatesville.

The more time I spend in the city, the less I worry about it. That’s not to say there aren’t still serious issues, but it does seem like the city Police Department is more visible and more involved in what is going on in the neighborhoods. Maybe it isn’t any safer, but it feels safer, in part because every time I find myself on foot in the city, only minutes pass before a city Police car drives by.

Folks from outside the city are going to need some reassurance and that may take a little time.

But even with those challenges — and they are large ones — the prospect for real redevelopment, a real rebirth of the city’s commercial district are the best they’ve been in more than a generation.

It will take more — some county help and probably help from those in Harrisburg to turn Coatesville into another Chester County success story. How about creating a cut-rate sales tax district for a four-block area on Lincoln Highway? Imagine — aside from the immediate benefit to local, low-income shoppers — folks coming from all over looking to get a deal.

And yes, the City needs a food market. Maybe not some enormous Wegmans or a giant, well, Giant, but at least an old fashioned grocery market. If you don’t have a car, it’s pretty tough to feed a family out of supplies from local convenience stores (and more expensive and arguably less healthy, too). We keep hearing how it’s not possible — but there has to be a creative way to make it both possible and financially rewarding for a business person to decide to do it.

So maybe, just maybe, we’re seeing the first narrow streams if light in what will, finally, be a new day for Coatesville. But it is going to take effort and commitment from many in the city — not to mention no small amount of hard work and creativity — if we’re going to see that dawn break over Lincoln Highway.

Here’s hoping that this is an effort all can get behind.

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