Collegeville’s Main Street Committee discusses change, Main Street models, a Trail connection, and a new Town Square location.
On Nov. 16, the Main Street Revitalization Steering Committee and Borough Council met at Borough Hall to review Main Street plans to date, which included how much our downtown should change, nearby downtowns as models, a connection to the Perkiomen Trail, and a different location for a Town Square. The session was again led by Mark Evans, Director of Planning from Derck & Edson.
Also attending were the planners and transportation experts of the Montgomery County Planning Commission. The funding for the Main Street plan is being provided by a $74,000 DCED Local Share Account grant.
Understanding Our Residents’ Tolerance for Change
In America today, renovating existing old buildings can be more expensive than tearing them down and building new ones. Viable Main Streets are usually dense with stores right next to one another.
On Collegeville’s 400 block, there are large side yards next to the Warren Lodge (map it), Clamer Hall (map it), and the former Ursinus dorms at 424, 426, and 444 E. Main St. (map it). Should new buildings be built to fill in those spaces?
If so, would it change the look of Main Street too radically? What if a number of the existing buildings were torn down, and replaced with a row of new, three- or four-story mixed-use buildings like in Phoenixville? Would that be desirable or be disliked by our residents? These are some of the questions that will be brought before all Borough residents in public meetings next year.
Preserving our Main Street’s Village Feel and Architectural Character
No matter what is decided, our proposed Main Street Commercial Zoning (MSC) is clear that any renovations or new buildings must preserve the look and feel of our late 19th and early 20th century Main Street, and “fit in” with nearby buildings. Also, any site improvements, access and parking, landscaping and lighting, land uses, and architectural treatments all need to fit in well, enhance their surroundings, and create a uniform attractive streetscape.
Getting Ideas from Surrounding Communities as Models for our Main Street
To keep our small-town village feel and create a successful quaint downtown, the committee learned about the major attributes of four nearby Village Mixed-use Districts : Skippack, Yardley, New Hope, and Newtown. Each of these communities offer real life examples of how Collegeville’s Main Street could grow and be preserved:
- Boutique Stores
- Mix of Restaurants, Cafes & Specialty Food Businesses
- Few anchor businesses, but many of the businesses form clusters around home décor, gifts, antiques, jewelry, and home and garden
- Central ownership creates incentives for shared parking, coordinated marketing and promotional events
- Most buildings were built as residences and few have expanded more than 40% beyond their existing building footprint
Key Takeaway: Does Collegeville have major property owners willing to invest in the renovation of its buildings and shared parking?
- Adaptive reuse of banks, residences and civic buildings into restaurants, breweries, professional offices and stores
- Municipal parking is a key resource that has promoted the revitalization of their business district
- Rear lanes connect parking lots and reduce the need for off-street parking and promote the use of on-street parking
- Infill development has featured ground floor storefronts, three story buildings and traditional building forms with pitched roofs
Key Takeaways: Adaptive reuse has been utilized successfully; rear lanes and rear parking are critical; side yards often 5 to 15 feet
New Hope Borough
- Riverfront community with one main commercial street
- Most historic buildings are conversions of former residences
- On-street parking is highly utilized
- Major anchor is Bucks County Playhouse
- Union Mills/ Retail/ Restaurants/ Brewery
- Bridge Street Market – 20 retail stalls indoors with shared dining area
- Logan Inn & Restaurant
- Tourist Railroad
- Remote Municipal Parking
Key Takeaways: Outdoor dining in front yards, outdoor dining and recreation along the river and canal, promote off-site parking
- Historic State Street commercial district
- Expanded commercial district along Sycamore Street with five blocks of new streetscape improvements
- Four new mixed-use developments along Sycamore Street
- New mixed-use development and stores along south State Street
- Adaptive reuse of many residential properties
Key Takeaways: New streetscape infrastructure and mixed-use zoning spurred new investment; municipal parking at rear is essential.
Creating a Second Main Street Connection to the Perkiomen Trail
The Perkiomen Trail, which crosses Collegeville’s Main Street at Third Ave., attracts over 151,000 visitors a year. The Main Street Steering Committee is currently looking into creating a second connection to the trail from both E. Fifth Ave. and from Clamer Ave. at the end of the street near the Scout Cabin.
The trail connections would start at these two locations, and follow the wooded area known as Bum Hollow (map it) down to the trail along First Ave. (Rt. 29 N). The Borough and College are looking into applying for a Greenways, Tails, and Recreation Program (GTRP) grant for the trail construction.
From Main Street, the trail could then be accessed from Clamer Ave. across from Schrader’s Auto or from the College. Having a trail connection in the 400 block could then help us attract more restaurants, brew pubs and trail-related businesses such as bike shops to our downtown.
Creating a Town Square on the Front Lawn of Ursinus College
Most successful downtown areas have central meeting squares or plazas. Although the Steering Committee had been discussing building a town square on the College’s Clamer Hall property, the College is now proposing an alternate location with better access to parking: The Berman Museum’s front lawn.
At the front lawn—where the “Movies on the Lawn” are held in the summer—there would be seating and possibly a covered area where live music, a pop-up market, and receptions and events could be held.
In addition to the meeting space, the College is looking into the possibility of expanding Myrin Library next door (map it) into a Collegeville community library.
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