Business Development in Collegeville: the Anil Dahm Interview

Collegeville business development - Royersford Main Street

Ideas and perspectives for business development in the Borough of Collegeville from Royersford Council President Anil Dahm.

In April, Royersford Council President Anil Dahm spoke to the Borough’s Business Development Committee. A physical therapist by trade, Anil has been rehabbing houses in and around Royersford since the early 2000s and saw “a lot of potential” in the borough’s many empty storefronts. As Council President he’s working to “make the town reach its maximum potential.” He provided us with ideas and perspectives for business development in the borough. Below are some excerpts:

Creating a Baseline

Royersford defines its Main St. as extending from the railroad tracks at the bottom of the hill up four blocks to Fifth Avenue. The Council passed an ordinance that only businesses, including service businesses, can occupy the main floor of the Main St. buildings. All residential apartments need to be upstairs.

Comprehensive plans translate into grants and developers are more likely to work in a community with a plan. Two years ago Royersford Borough hired a firm to write one for us. The plan was overseen by a steering committee of 14 people, including business owners. To develop the plan, we surveyed our residents to find out what businesses they wanted, and updated our zoning map and ordinances.

The comprehensive plan cost us $48,000 through a private engineering firm but it has translated into $500,000 to $600,000 in grants received. Royersford also hires a professional grant writer to write all their grants, rather than their manager. They believe this increases their success rate.

See Royersford’s comprehensive plan.

They also actively engage in code enforcement. The Borough hired a code enforcement consultant at an hourly rate who interacts with builders and residents. He performs a walk-through of the Borough quarterly looking for violations. He is at the borough from 8am to 1pm, Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Royersford Borough Main Street rehab

Rehabbing a Community

Now their push is to promote the new businesses on Main St. and to support and motivate existing ones. Royersford Borough is proactive in recruiting businesses wherever they can including on social media. Their new businesses include Senator Katie Muth’s office, Sweet Aloha, Brewed Awakening Coffee Shop, Big Easy Cajun Restaurant, and Main St. Café. A Brew Pub is going in the old fire station.

We also created an overlay district—a district with established site guidelines for future development and building expansion projects—for Main St. In general, projects that substantially comply with the guidelines can be approved in a relatively short review time. Although many overlay plans contain design standards, Royersford’s plan does not. They do however provide facade design guidelines.

See Royersford’s Facade Program Design Guidelines.

Parking is also important, and the Borough commissioned a parking study from an engineering firm. They created 90 new spaces behind their Main St. in a municipal lot; next year it will expand to 139. They also purchased new wayfinding signs for parking.

Several major community events are held in the Borough each year and after every event, Royersford’s Public Works immediately cleans up to keep the parks, streets and sidewalks tidy.

Anil has established contacts with all the local commercial realtors, and has requested that all potential commercial tenants meet early in the process with him as Borough Council President and with the Borough Manager. That way, they can encourage projects that fit within their overlay district guidelines, and discourage projects that do not.

Royersford Boat Dock on First Avenue

Capitalizing on the River

Royersford Borough has also been active in working to extend the Schuylkill River Trail. They received a grant to extend the trail from one mile to two along the river. Eventually, their section of the trail will connect to the main Schuylkill River Trail.

In the last several years, developers built townhouses to the left (south) of their Main St. at the bottom of the hill along the river. There is now a River Walk, and the Hill School put in a boat launch and ramp. Both the Hill School and Owen J. Roberts students practice rowing throughout the summer from that site.

Plans are to develop the right (north) side along the river with a pedestrian-friendly row of restaurants.

Suggestions for Collegeville

  • The CEDC should encourage business owners to form their own association and become active in your borough’s development of your business districts.
  • Look at all your fees for developers and businesses. For example, make your sign ordinance fee $75 for everybody.
  • Use Montco 20/40 grants to fund wayfinding signs.
  • Council should form a grants committee to direct your manager on which grants to apply for in order to give him direction.
  • Your Senator is the most important person to help you get grants. For example, Senator Muth made a video to support our crosswalk project. Let Senator Muth and Representative Webster go to bat for you.
  • Residents should explore the many volunteer opportunities in the community. From vacancies on local government committees or commissions, to community organizations like the CEDC and Rotary.

Created in January 2018, the Borough of Collegeville Business Development Committee oversees economic development and business recruitment in the borough. It is made up of volunteers from the borough and administered by a Borough Council member.

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