Ideas and perspectives for business development in the Borough of Collegeville from Phoenixville Borough Manager Jean Krack.
In November, Phoenixville Borough Manager Jean Krack spoke to the Borough’s Business Development Committee about what was involved in Phoenixville’s “rise from the ashes”. How it became the vibrant business community it is today. He provided us with ideas and perspectives for business development in the borough. Below are some excerpts:
Community Support and Community Money
“In the early days of my becoming Borough Manager, our only standout businesses were the historic Colonial Theater and the Black Lab Bistro. We capitalized on their successes to begin recruiting other businesses.”
When working on revitalization of your business district, it is important that you get the support of your local businesses, your Borough Council and local politicians behind you.
To be successful in winning grants, you need to first commit your own money as a placeholder. In Phoenixville, we pick up the costs of the design and engineering of the grant projects first so they are shovel-ready. As a result, from 2004 to 2014, Phoenixville received 6 million in grant money. And as a result of the improvements, over time our Borough’s assessed valuations went up from $565 to $755 million.
We had five non-profits in Phoenixville. These were all groups making decisions about our borough. So we banded them all together and called the umbrella group “Phoenixville First.” The Borough funded them at $20,000 a year to work together to encourage businesses to locate in our Borough.
Keeping Up Appearances
Our Public Works Dept. receives direction from us to always keep the streets clean and the trash emptied. We clean up immediately after all events. And we immediately have sidewalks fixed, and we don’t tolerate any yard signs—except political signs required by law—in our Borough. These are all pieces that affect the look of your town.
Related to that, as Borough Manager, I call on building owners who have let their buildings fall into disrepair and require them to upgrade their unsightly buildings. To do this, you must have the backing of the Council.
To attract businesses and developers, I got our building and inspection fees as low as possible, and also lowered our water and sewer rates. By encouraging growth, you make up the cost in your tax base, which sustains your borough. I also sped up the time to receive permits and schedule inspections.
We also awarded LERTA–Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance– tax abatements to 40 land parcels. This froze taxes on properties and incentivized the building of apartments in Phoenixville. Over the years, Phoenixville has gained 2,200 more residential units, which includes the complexes of French Creek West, Steelworks, the North Side residences for seniors and the residential apartments over the shops along our business district.
We ask developers to give back through financial security agreements and contributions to Borough Council.
As the Borough Manager, I am very proactive when I hear a business is moving out of Phoenixville. Rather than wait for a developer to approach us, I step in immediately when a building is available. As soon as I heard that our KMart was closing, I began recruiting and meeting with developers to tour the building to work toward securing a replacement businesses.
You’ve Got Soul
There are always people in your Borough who resist change and want to keep things the way they are. For those people, it is helpful if you have volunteers with Type A personalities, who don’t care about the politics and clean house and just gets things done. For the ones who resist change, acknowledge it is true that: “This is not going to be the same as it was,” and then move ahead.
Regarding the new “Town Centers” at Rt. 422 in Collegeville and King-of-Prussia, they are soulless Disney-type creations. Communities like Phoenixville and Collegeville are unique and quirky and have a real character to them that those towns will never have.
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.