Opinion

Clean up 'Gateway'

Maybe those who are dragging their feet in supporting a cleanup of Chester's "Gateway" are hoping all the old buildings will just fall down.

That's what happened to a 100-year-old warehouse at the corner of Chester's Walnut Street and Lynwood Avenue. In Thursday's early morning hours, the neighborhood was jolted by a loud boom when half of the condemned structure collapsed into a heap of timber and tin.

Although the building had been condemned about three months ago because the roof was sinking and a wall was buckling, some materials and equipment had remained inside. Officials, however, were unsure whether the part of the building still standing was secure enough to allow owners to retrieve the equipment.

Chester County Councilman Alex Oliphant has been leading a crusade to clean up the S.C. 9 entrance into Chester. He has been joined by residents and other county officials who want to see Chester County move forward.

Oliphant fears that the former Thomas & Howard building, once a grocery distribution center, also is in danger of collapsing. The building now is boarded with plywood with vines growing along its sides and parts of the roof caving in.

Oliphant said the deterioration on the warehouse that collapsed had been evident, but no one had done anything about it. Officials fear that other decrepit buildings, including another warehouse adjacent to the one that fell down, in the area could pose a public health hazard. The blighted area runs from the end of Lancaster Street, across the railroad tracks and a short distance down Gadsen Street.

Unfortunately, it is this debris-strewn strip that visitors first see when they take S.C. 9 into Chester. The beautification campaign focuses on two buildings in particular, the aforementioned Thomas Howard warehouse and the former Springsteen Mill on Gadsen.

The old mill may be the worst offender in terms of being an eyesore. Long closed and gutted, it now is surrounded by heaps of crumbled bricks, wooden planks and other debris.

The collapse of the old tin warehouse is a harbinger, a warning sign that the residents of Chester can't afford to ignore. First impressions are important, and condemned buildings shouldn't be the first sight that welcomes -- or repels -- people coming into the city.

Oliphant thinks that the county could acquire the land the buildings are on through eminent domain or persuade owners to sign deeds over to local government. Then the cost of demolition would be relatively inexpensive.

Whatever it takes, we agree that the cleanup should be a local priority.

IN SUMMARY

Chester residents should make cleanup of blighted Gateway area a top priority.

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