Last night the seven members of the West Chester Borough Council voted unanimously to approve a new ordinance that provides for the creation of a Cultural Use Overlay District. The new overlay includes the Armory building on North High Street, one of 13 National Guard Armories in Pennsylvania added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.
The vote represents a major victory for Uptown! Entertainment Alliance, a non-profit working to purchase the Armory building from its current owner, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and develop the property as a 300-seat venue for the performing arts. Because the building resides in a residential zone, the Cultural Use Overlay was a key element in Uptown!’s strategic plan and will allow the group to operate in neat compliance with the municipality.
It is, in fact, the first time the Borough has approved an overlay ordinance to privilege a district for cultural use.
“[The community’s] response has been positive and we’re very happy that we seem to be anticipated as a good neighbor”, said Richard May, Treasurer of Uptown! Entertainment Alliance, responding to Borough Council questioning.
Uptown! hopes to close on the sale of the Armory building in October and begin renovating soon after. The building, suffering from what has been termed “deferred maintenance” will require millions of dollars and months of restorative rehabilitation.
Optimistic, Richard May said that “in a perfect world” theater programming could begin as soon as July 2016.
The Council also began conditional use hearings for the Armory building the same night, a kind of negotiation for occupancy. The hearings, open to the public, will continue on September 15th.
Kristin McLaughlin Mitchell, Founding Artistic Director of the Resident Theatre Company, the professional theater group that will produce shows in the Armory said, “We’ve been working closely with Uptown! to bring professional theater to the Borough and we’re excited to see everything moving forward so smoothly.”