September 12, 2008

Chester Officials Eye Old Mill Cleanup

By Charles D. Perry / [email protected]

CHESTER - Pastor Joe Neal's congregation has grown tired of the old Springsteen Mill, the large building surrounded by heaps of crumbled brick that sits near Calvary Baptist Church's backyard.

"We have been very distressed about what had happened on that site," said Neal, who has been part of the 650-member church for some 32 years. "It gives just a bad impression of what Chester is and who we are as a town."

But local leaders hope that sight won't blight the landscape much longer. If things go as officials plan, the city of Chester will take over the property later this year.

The site's owner, Billy Harris, is behind on his taxes, officials said, and if he doesn't pay them this year the city will get the land. Harris could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The site has long plagued neighbors and officials. They've watched the abandoned textile mill deteriorate as people pillaged the remains for lumber and bricks, leaving weed-covered debris.

"It's such an eyesore," said Chester Mayor Mitch Foster. "It's a blight. And to get that cleaned up, it would improve the appearance of the city, the neighborhood. I think it would even lift spirits, so to speak, because when you go by there it's just so depressing."

Officials also worry about the run-down mess hurting the county's chances of landing industry.

"It's killing us from an economic development standpoint," said County Councilman Alex Oliphant, the most vocal supporter of the site's restoration. "It's just a curb- appeal thing. It's terrible."

Although elected officials are leading the charge to clean the site, they're not alone.

Neal said church members and people who live near the church formed a nonprofit organization called NuGenesis to support local government in redeveloping the site.

The nearly 150-year-old church hopes to acquire the lot someday and convert the land into housing, a civic center, a daycare and a park.

"We looked at it as an opportunity rather than just a problem," Neal said.

City leaders voted this week to pay $62,500 toward the project if the city lands a $500,000 grant to cover the cleanup costs. The Chester County Council is expected to make the same move Monday.

But leaders won't have to pay all of that in cash, as their portions can include providing services, such as hauling away debris.

Officials will find out in December if the grant will go Chester's way, Oliphant said. But if the county doesn't get the grant this year, he said, the councilman is confident the money will arrive next year, especially if the city owns the land.

"My goal is to get the site cleared," he said. "It doesn't matter to me who owns it, who ends up with it, who's involved in the future of it. It really just hurts the morale of the community."

Charles D. Perry 329-4068

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