Implementation of the pilot work plan began in earnest in January 2012 with the induction of the new mayor and determination of priority areas for the SC2 pilot. As noted above, under new city leadership Chester identified three specific priority areas: 1) create the economic development plan to revitalize downtown, 2) gain control of the retail space in the Chester Transportation Center, and 3) open a supermarket in Chester. Team members worked on all of these, and took on additional projects where they saw opportunities to contribute or where the city or community identified a need. The following section highlights SC2 team activities that demonstrate key accomplishments and the breadth of important SC2 team activities.
Downtown Economic Development and Revitalization Plan
The SC2 team was able to coordinate a partnership with Temple University’s planning school to develop a downtown redevelopment plan. While in the past Chester had been successful in attracting large-scale redevelopment projects, such as a the casino and soccer stadium, these projects were located on the periphery of the city and had no impact on Chester’s downtown, which remained blighted and marked by high vacancy rates. The partnership came about due to a connection between the Environmental Protection Agency team member and a former Agency intern who became a student in Temple University’s Center for Sustainable Communities program. This student worked with the team member and her professor to coordinate the pro bono services of graduate students to help the city with its plans for improving downtown. As part of their coursework, these students created a comprehensive plan for downtown redevelopment and presented it to the city.
Retail Space in the Chester Transportation Center
The SC2 team also succeeded in gaining control of retail space for the city in the Chester Transportation Center, providing an additional revenue stream for the city. After a dispute over rights to the space, the Department of Transportation and Small Business Administration team members were able to negotiate agreements with Amtrak and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. The city was then able to rent the retail space in the station, providing revenues to the city.
The SC2 team also helped to bring grocery retail to the Chester community by facilitating the efforts of a Philadelphia-based food bank, Philabundance, to provide residents with low-cost, nutritious food. In the longer term, this necessary community resource will reduce impediments to attracting future investment and growth in Chester. Originally envisioned as a supermarket-style food bank, Fare & Square ultimately became the nation’s first nonprofit grocery store. The Fare & Square Grocery Store project was financed and built during the first 18 months of the SC2 pilot and opened for business in fall 2013. The Treasury Department team member helped to link a local community development financial institution with the Reinvestment Fund to bring this project to fruition. Other major backers of this project included the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Delaware Valley Regional Economic Development Fund, the City of Chester, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Targeted Technical Assistance
Beyond the activities described above, the SC2 team contributed to additional discrete projects in Chester. One of these was demolishing a dangerous building. The Chester Arms Hotel was compromised in a hurricane and was a danger to city residents, but Chester was not able to use its Community Development Block Grant money to tear it down and did not have other funds available for this purpose. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) team member was able to assist by repurposing existing Block Grant funds to make them available for the demolition. After the HUD member brought this information to the city’s community planning development director, the SC2 team and the city were able to work together to modify the use of funds within 48 hours.
The health of its residents was a priority for the City of Chester and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) team member was able to assist Chester in several health-related initiatives. At the time of the SC2 pilot, the city had recently hired its first health commissioner in five years. The HHS team member oriented this city staff person to her new role by helping define her job responsibilities, introducing her to different agencies and connecting her to formal training through a national fellowship program from the Office of Minority Health.
In addition, the HHS team member helped to establish the Healthy Chester Coalition, a collection of nonprofits and faith-based organizations. He brought together dozens of organizations to work on advancing Chester’s health care goals. The coalition is a community forum and a productive working group of 45–60 organizations that meet monthly. It offers opportunities for networking as well as for training and sharing best practices related to nutrition, diabetes, and cardiovascular health. As a result, Chester has started to see a shift in the interactions of local organizations from being competitors to becoming partners sharing best practices. Before the Coalition was created, some groups, like those working on HIV issues, had been working in the community for 20 years without similar organizations even knowing about their work. At the time of the site visit, the group was working on establishing mobile health care trucks so that individuals in low-income neighborhoods could have easier access to health and dental care. The Coalition also provides guidance and education to its member organizations on applying for grants successfully and using resources more effectively. The Director of Government Relations from Widener University co-chairs the Coalition with the HHS team member.
The General Services Administration team member was able to provide assistance on a number of fronts by helping Chester understand how to acquire surplus federal equipment at a greatly reduced price. These purchases included computers for the school system, four-wheel-drive vehicles, and a 30-foot boat for policing the Chester waterfront.