Comprehensive Planning Begins
Representatives of Collegeville Borough met with the Montgomery County Planning Commission on Jan. 23 to discuss their planning needs. The meeting begins the development of a comprehensive plan with a priority on connecting our business districts with Main Street and the Ursinus College campus. Attendees included Eric Jarrell, Section Chief: Community Planning who introduced Collegeville Borough’s new Community Planner Mike Lowrey. Also attending were Ursinus College, Barth Consulting Group and Rep. Joe Webster’s office.
Montco Planning will provide technical assistance and advice to the Borough’s Business Development Committee (BDC) and Planning Commission, and will provide professional help for the Borough’s applications for county and state grants. The Borough’s last contract with Montco Planning was over 10 years ago; and unbelievably, the Borough’s last comprehensive plan for Collegeville was written over 45 years ago.
Planner Mike Lowrey will be attending our BDC meetings, overseeing development of our plan, and will bring in additional expertise such as landscape architects, urban designers, etc. as needed.
Input and Considerations
When developing a town plan, it is important that all views be considered and heard. The comprehensive planning process will include surveys and public and town hall meetings, along with other opportunities for the community to share their aspirations. The shared vision this creates will provide the basis of the plan. Other aspects of the plan include history, demographics, zoning, existing businesses, character of the Main Street, opportunities and challenges and recommendations.
The Borough is fortunate to already have a number of documents to provide background for the plan; particularly, the 2010 Collegeville Revitalization Plan, which the BDC has been using as their work plan, the Central Perkiomen Valley Regional Comprehensive Plan, the county’s previous Walkability Audit of Collegeville, and the Collegeville Design Guidelines developed by the Collegeville Economic Development Corp. (CEDC) in 2008 which still apply today.
Other information to be included in the plan:
- ESRI Data
Interpretation of the ESRI Data will be provided by the county. This marketing data will help us identify the need for specific products and services in the borough to use in attracting new businesses.
- Parking Solutions
Identifying car parking options for the businesses we hope to attract on Main Street between 4th and 5th. Making parking available through shared lots seems to be the best solution, and we will continue to look into on-street parking.
- Sign Ordinance
Collegeville business owners complain that our current ordinance is unduly restrictive: A common complaint in any community. We must develop a comprehensive sign ordinance to cover all manner of signs, in all zoning districts. In addition we’d like it to provide a unified look to our Main Street.
- Main Street Design Standards
We need incentives for developers to implement our current design standards. Additionally, the borough would like to discuss having the County Planning Commission create design standards with colors and styles similar to what they developed for Schwenksville.
Montco Planning will also help the Borough concerning:
- Main Street Streetscape Planning
In the past, Collegeville Borough received grants for a streetscape with decorative light poles on Main St. from 1st to 4th Aves. The borough would like Montco Planning’s assistance to apply for streetscape grants for Main St. between 4th and 5th Aves., which would then connect with the streetscape along the Ursinus campus from 5th to 9th Aves to form a continuous, beautiful Main Street.
- Wayfinding Signage
The borough would like recommendations and assistance in developing wayfinding signs, which would identify parking lots, restaurants and amenities available to drivers, walkers and hikers on the trail.
- Creekside park Grant
The Perkiomen Watershed Conservancy (PWC) found a boat launch and steps down to the Perkiomen Creek on Borough-owned property off 1st Ave (map it). The Council voted to approve creating a creekside park in that area once the Lower Providence Regional Sewer Authority finishes laying their sewer pipe. The Council would like to apply for a Montco 2040 Grant to develop the park and to participate in the PWC’s Perkiomen Creek Water Trail plans.
- The Perkiomen Bridge Hotel
The borough needs to determine what steps to take to take back or to re-purpose the historic and decaying Perkiomen Bridge Hotel, which dates back to 1689.
Ursinus Presses Ahead With Plan
As mentioned in the November Notebook, Ursinus found the costs to develop its Main Street properties for business use between 4th and 5th Ave using a one-off approach cost prohibitive both to the College and to the tenants.
In December, Ursinus put out a Request for Information (RFI) “to solicit input from prospective development partners on the potential revitalization of the section of Main Street adjacent to the campus” i.e., to create a vision for the area while working in coordination with the Borough and Montgomery County on planning.
The RFI described their vision as: “To foster a vibrant, walkable retail corridor adjacent to campus and to energize opportunity for living, dining, shopping, and recreational experiences that will appeal to local residents and current/prospective students, faculty, staff and alumni.”
A BDC Grants Subcommittee was formed in December 2019 to assist planners in identifying state, county and other grants that may be available to the borough. In January committee members acquired copies of the Pennsylvania Grant & Resource Directory for 2019-2020 through Rep. Joe Webster’s office, and met with Ava Willis-Barksdale who managed Ursinus College’s DCED Multimodal Transportation Fund grant application for sidewalks from 5th to 9th Ave. In February they will meet with Montco Planning grant expert Scott France.
CEDC Digital Communications Outreach
The BDC continues to update its business database including web sites and social media data. The CEDC has begun using this data to locate and then follow businesses in the borough on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. If you own a business in Collegeville Borough, and your business is on one of these sites, you may have noticed them following and liking you lately.
The CEDC Facebook page in particular has a lot of followers and they look forward to sharing your delicious pizza, pasta, pho, sushi, tacos and other American and ethnic food. Your jewelry, hair and nail salon, sporting goods and other goods. So be sure to post often: The CEDC wants to let everyone know about the diverse restaurants and retail available in the borough.
Collegeville Ranks Fifth
In the 2020 ranking of ten best places to live in Pennsylvania compiled by HomeSnacks, a media marketing firm, Collegeville ranked fifth; falling behind Philadelphia area communities Swarthmore (#3) and Conshohocken (#4), but beat out Pittsburgh’s tony Fox Chapel (#7).
According to their web site, “HomeSnacks combines recent data from the Census, FBI, OpenStreetMaps, and dozens of other sources into bite-sized studies to help you understand what it’s like to live in different communities across the country.”
Collegeville was selected for its low crime rate, low unemployment and high income level.
A more detailed overview of both the Borough and the region can be found in the CEDC’s Why Choose Collegeville? page. And while HomeSnacks relied on a Wikipedia photo of our current number one eyesore the Perkiomen Bridge Hotel, the CEDC Gallery presents a more accurate picture of our town. Take a look.
Opinion: No Vacancy At the Marketplace?
On Saturday February 1, Borough representatives toured the former Sears Hardware and Rock and Roll After School spaces available for lease at the Marketplace at Collegeville (aka the Redner’s Shopping Center). The tour was provided by Josh Blair, leasing manager for Management Assistance Group (MAG). The tour group pitched ideas for dozens of retail and restaurant tenant types. Josh in turn filled them in on the myriad businesses they’ve approached and those they continue to reach out to, and provided information to the group about the realities of commercial leasing.
The tour provided the group with perspective on the intricacies of the retail and restaurant market in the region and insight into what businesses are looking for, and why they would or wouldn’t want to come here.
“Collegeville Borough is stuck in among major retail centers: Providence Town Center, the Court at Upper Providence (Target/Giant) in Limerick and the Lowe’s/Target complex in Lower Providence,” Josh explained. Major restaurants and retailers prefer to locate in these centers, which already attract thousands of customers. Also, when a large retailer such as Redner’s locates in a shopping center, it has exclusivity, and no other food market can locate in that center.
Josh also clarified that although an online retailer such as Amazon could lease the vacant Sears space, putting a warehouse in a retail center is too expensive, since taxes, liability insurance and other costs are higher than in an office or manufacturing and industrial site.
Both the former Sears and Rock n’ Roll spaces are located in the former Cope industrial building which predates the shopping center. Both spaces have ceilings tall enough to allow a second story. If the large spaces are subdivided, floor to ceiling firewalls would need to be built, adding to the development costs. But if subdivided, the Sears portion could have entrances on three sides.
While the borough has attractive demographics for businesses such as restaurants, Josh explained that lack of visible street frontage is a problem. Their management company has had difficulty filling spaces in the backs and sides of retail centers. And although the Marketplace owner could raze existing buildings and build new two-or-three story mixed-use buildings with apartments above, the cost of development is high and there are no plans to do so at this time.
Is there hope for filling the vacancies?
Before regional shopping was created in the aforementioned retail centers, when Blockbuster Video was in the front left corner of the center building (left of Redner’s) and a fitness business was located in the back of the Cope building, those stores were busy and the back parking lot was nearly full.
While the situation is different today, Collegeville Station on 3rd Avenue recently attracted Troubles End Brewing in a building with no significant street frontage. Does one really need to see the front when the smartphone provides plenty of opportunities for finding customers for any business?
We continue to believe that the borough’s vacant commercial spaces can be filled if we can find and promote the right interested tenants.
Marketplace Tour Gallery
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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