Thursday, January 16, 2003

W. Chester looks to the old

Township seeking funds to help Pisgah, Olde West Chester

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

WEST CHESTER TWP. - Plans are moving forward on two major revitalization efforts in aging business strips of this rapidly developing community.

But still to be determined is how the work in Pisgah and Olde West Chester will be funded. The township's $32 million budget for 2003 already is strapped, officials say.

Trustee Jose Alvarez on Tuesday proposed forming a tax increment financing (TIF) district in Pisgah, West Chester's original business district along U.S. 42 from Mason to Sharonville that has declined in recent years.

A TIF district could generate at least some money to help pay for improved lighting, parking lots, medians and fewer curb cuts, Mr. Alvarez said. Tax increment financing is a development tool that uses property tax revenues to help pay for infrastructure projects.

It is not anticipated, however, that a Pisgah TIF - involving 200 businesses - would produce much money. TIFs generally include vacant land that is about to be developed.

The township wants to invigorate Pisgah, but merchants are resisting and have formed a coalition and hired an attorney. They are afraid they will be assessed to pay for the changes, which include medians with landscaping islands, or lose their property through eminent domain.

Trustee Catherine Stoker was leery of the TIF proposal, pointing out that it would take money out of the township's general fund.

"U.S. 42 is not a township road. The county and state are responsible for it, not the township," Ms. Stoker said. "We are worried about losing $1.5 million in revenue because of state cutbacks. This is not the time to start a new project."

Nevertheless, the trustees directed staff to investigate how much a TIF would generate in Pisgah and report at the next meeting, Jan. 28.

Meanwhile, merchants and trustees were agreeable Tuesday to a revitalization plan in Olde West Chester, which runs about one mile along Cincinnati-Dayton Road from Union Elementary School to West Chester Road.

Improved sidewalks would be the first of many "baby steps" the township can begin taking to improve the area, said Jose Castrejon, a consultant with McGill Smith Punshon Inc., which is heading up the effort.

Business owners there, many of whom have sunk a lot of money into their properties over the past few years, said it's time for the township to put up funds, too.

An overall improvement project has been estimated to cost about $5 million.

While businesses likely would be required to help pay, grants and community redevelopment programs could help, too, township officials say.

Some 15 businesses operate in Olde West Chester but at least seven have left in recent years. Two newer businesses, The Village Spa and A Coffee Affair, are bustling, and other revitalization efforts are under way in old homes that are being converted into businesses.

"We just want the township to step up a little bit and do their part," Rick Monsipapa, owner of A Coffee Affair, told trustees. "Olde West Chester is West Chester. It is not Union Centre Boulevard. It is not concrete jungles. Olde West Chester is that feel of a town you can't get elsewhere."


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