Pop-up beer garden gets temporary permit

A pop-up beer garden described as a European-style cultural center captured the fancy – and some concerns – of Kennett Square Borough Council at its meeting on Monday, Aug. 3.

One of the buildings on the west side of the former creamery site is slated for demolition. Photo courtesy of Sandra Mulry

One of the buildings on the west side of the former creamery site is slated for demolition. Photo courtesy of Sandra Mulry

After considerable discussion, the council voted 5-1 to grant a temporary use permit – valid until Dec. 31 – to Sandra Mulry for an outdoor community venue. The initiative, planned to operate one or two days a week into the fall at 401 Birch St., will involve 7,000 square feet of buffered, entertainment space.

George “Chip” P. Plumley III cast the dissenting vote, echoing the view of solicitor Marc D. Jonas that the proposal lacked specificity. “Typically this council gets to put its arms around what it’s approving,” Jonas said.

Mulry, who appeared with Christa Bui, a Belgian native who will assist in getting the project underway, apologized for being unable to provide concrete details. “The site has been idle, atrophying for seven years,” she said. “Our goal is to explore new opportunities.”

Bui said she is familiar with European beer gardens, which serve as multi-generational gathering places. “That’s really why I was hired,” she said. She said she envisioned a children’s playground constructed from logs, rocks and sand and a seating area fashioned from repurposed pallets, beautifying the remains of an industrialized area.

“It’s not just a bar,” Bui said. “You can bring your 5-year-old and they can play and be safe.”

Mulry said they hoped to attract food trucks and beer vendors, but she explained that they needed the permit before they could approach prospective partners. She said they hoped to make money by transforming the space into an accessible and welcoming environment and then getting rent from culinary and drink purveyors.

She and Bui both said they would be seeking input from the community via social media to determine what cultural offerings to pursue, ranging from sustainability classes to art exhibits. “It’s an evolving concept,” Mulry said.

Bui, who suggested a possible hashtag of “Birchbeauty” for the project, added that they expected to shape the venue to meet potential customers’ needs. “It really is dependent on the community,” she said.

Codes Enforcement Officer Russell H. Drumheller said meetings on the pop-up proposal with Borough Manager Joseph C. Scalise and Historic Kennett Square Executive Director Mary Hutchins led to the conclusion that the borough’s temporary use permit was a good fit for the somewhat amorphous plan.

Drumheller said the U-shaped space that would be utilized sits between existing buildings. “Residents won’t be able to see it or hear it,” he said.

Hutchins said the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society is using pop-up beer gardens effectively as a fund-raiser in Philadelphia this summer. She said she visited one that featured a barbershop quartet and elegant floral displays in recycled materials such as an old bathtub.

“I’ve been to one in Europe,” said borough resident John Thomas. “I think it’s a great idea. It’s unique.”

Borough Council President Leon R. Spencer Jr. said he struggled with the uncertainty of the proposal and iterated a concern raised by Councilman Brett M. Irwin that the borough is “over-liquored.”

But Spencer said he was impressed by the fact that a blighted area was being targeted for revitalizing, and he said his fears about the unknowns were somewhat alleviated by the temporary nature of the approval. “It gives us a chance to look at it,” he said, adding that defining “it” at this point presented a challenge.

In a subsequent interview, Mulry said she appreciated the vote to issue the permit. She said she expected to spend about $300,000 to demolish and clean up the site. The original stone creamery building will remain, but smaller structures in disrepair will be razed, saving some of the architectural elements, such as trusses, for recycling into the final project, she said.

“The goal is to breathe life on Birch Street” in an environmentally responsible way, Mulry said.

Other routine reports indicated that business continues to boom in the borough. Hutchins said three new ventures will be opening soon: Houppette, a cosmetic and accessory boutique at State and Union streets; Blown Away, a hair salon on South Union Street; and Red Clay Studio, an interior design business on State Street.

Drumheller noted a recent influx of young homebuyers into the borough, some of whom are returning to their roots. He said every time a home changes hands, he conducts an inspection, typically five or six per month. Last month, he did 14.

Asked by Spencer to explain the spike, Drumheller said, “Kennett’s happening.” He said buyers are attracted to the town’s walkability and friendliness.

In other business, council voted to authorize the advertisement for a public meeting for the proposed ordinance that will amend parking regulations and authorized the signing of a $570,000 loan for a new fire truck. Councilman Geoffrey R. Bosley noted that the fire company hopes to defray some of that cost by selling some equipment.

Reporting on summer activities, Claire Finfrock, recreation coordinator for the Kennett Area Parks and Recreation Board, described a host of offerings, ranging from day camp to sports clinics. She invited the public to stop and admire the improvements at Herb Pennock Park, where five new sets of 27-foot-long bleachers have been added.

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