Ursinus College Retains Developer
Ursinus’s board recently approved engaging Southampton based developer Core Development to begin planning the development of campus properties in the 400 block of Collegeville’s Main Street. This action will reignite the Borough’s revitalization plans, made dormant by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Core owner Pete Staz spoke at the September 28 meeting of the Borough Business Development Committee (BDC). Pete is no stranger to Collegeville and the College; he and his wife are Ursinus graduates, and their daughter is currently a Freshman at the school.
As part of the arrangement, the College has requested that Core Development use Bernardon architects for all of their Main Street building design. Bernardon designed the College’s dynamic yet highly functional Schellhase Commons building.
Core Development specializes in campus, commercial and multi-family spaces in Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs. Core is also a full-service real estate company, and provides not only development, capital solutions and construction, but also property management. Additionally the company focuses on sustainability, working to create energy-efficient buildings.
Some of their projects:
Located in the historic district of Ardmore, Cricket Flats is a group of mixed use five-story buildings with 77 luxury apartments, 12,000 SF of retail space and a 105-space parking garage. Amenities include a fitness center, rooftop terrace, green roof, in-unit washers and dryers, secure bicycle parking, a shared culinary kitchen and raised bed gardens for tenants.
While a project of this scale may not be germane to Collegeville’s revitalization goals, it shows the depth of Core Development’s capabilities.
Also in Ardmore, 11 Cricket is a one-of-a-kind mixed-use redevelopment of a historic building. Core Development attracted a mix of retailers including Nudy’s Café and an eclectic toy and gift shop on the first floor with five market rate apartments in the upper stories.
1222 Walnut Street
1222 Walnut Street in Center City, Philadelphia is a four-story architectural gem that required a total gut rehab on its interior in order to convert it to space suitable for use in the 21st Century. Totaling 18,500 SF, the basement was excavated and lowered, a new roof was installed, all new utilities and mechanicals were put in and all interior finishes were replaced.
The first floor has been leased to Giant Foods for their smaller urban grocery concept, Be Fresh. Upstairs three full floors were leased to Kaplan International, a leading international provider of education and career services.
Core Development’s mission is to create outstanding spaces that promote a more vibrant, social community in walkable neighborhoods.
Core owner Pete Staz observed that “Collegeville’s Main Street holds a lot of potential. Your resident income and demographics in and within five miles of Collegeville are excellent. They exceed both Doylestown and West Chester. (You have) the capacity to expand your commercial district, and the town would benefit by constructing infill buildings on your Main Street and attracting more retail.
Seniors also want housing in towns where they can walk to everything. We have found that our developments attract an interesting tenant mix of both empty nesters and young folks.”
He also pointed out that in general, his company’s developments do not add children to the school system. “In college towns, most often we lease to students, so there is minimal impact on local schools.”
This winter Core Development will begin working with Ursinus College, the BDC, and the Borough Administration to develop plans for a mixed-use development (shops below and apartments above) for the corner of 5th Avenue and Main Street across from Borough Hall.
Vision & Best Practices
At the August Borough BDC meeting, Developer Chris Canavan of W.B. Homes discussed the importance of defining our vision, and best practices in working with developers:
- Define our vision for Main Street.
It is imperative to provide the developer with a clear, unified, and specific vision of the type of development we want. One way to do this would be to have a dedicated Main Street subcommittee to provide feedback to the developers’ proposals.
- Work with the borough to create a streamlined review process.
Make sure everyone involved is educated on the development process, and make sure the process for review and approvals is as simple and straightforward as possible with few surprises.
- Recognize that a certain amount of building density is necessary.
Density is necessary for both successful retail districts and for the developer. We should allow scale to work for both us and the street’s advantage. We need to look at how the new development fits in with the current buildings, and see if the setbacks are adequate for aesthetics and outdoor dining.
- Good design is crucial.
Good design is crucial to the beauty of the development and whether it functions as a meaningful space. Chris pointed out that “the attractiveness of the College’s Schellhase Commons is already projecting onto Main Street”.
- Advocate for pedestrian access.
Pedestrian access is important in our walkable community. Can we make that access better? We should assess the condition of our sidewalks, and look at ways we can make our Main Street more attractive. We should appeal to the interests of our current business owners and incentivize them to attract more unique retail, restaurants and renters to our community.
- Location, location, location.
Collegeville is the home of Ursinus College and is in close proximity to the local pharmaceutical and tech industries. We should capitalize on our strengths and define ourselves as being the desired residential hub close to both culture and nature that we are.
Business Committee Tours Main Street Properties
In Tosco’s building, there are two retail spaces: one 1,000 SF and a second at 1,200 SF with a small side yard that would be perfect for a use such as outdoor dining. The spaces are totally renovated with new heating, AC and bathrooms. The manager has received interest from hair, nail and laser salons. The property is available for viewing through Berkshire Hathaway / Collegeville.
The KeyBank building is a very large space with lots of possibilities for redevelopment into two or three businesses. It includes the original savings and loan bank that has occupied the site from before WW II, a very spacious addition from the 1950s with a bank vault, and a sizable parking lot behind the building. The former KeyBank has been bought by four law partners of the Keenan Ciccitto & Associates firm. If individuals have an interest in the space, they should contact the law firm.
CEDC Help for Collegeville’s Businesses
Our businesses need everyone’s continued support through this COVID crisis. Although no business in the borough has closed yet, many are struggling just to make their lease payments, and few are making a profit.
The CEDC has been keeping our businesses apprised of all the loans and grants available from Montgomery County and the state. To date, almost 20 of our businesses have received loans and grants.
The CEDC is also working with Ursinus College on a program to offer discounts and promote our businesses to the students, faculty and staff. The College is hoping to bring back Bear Bucks, which allows students to buy meals off campus from local restaurants and food stores. We’ll continue to update you on how this program may be re-instituted.
Campus Fortifies Against COVID
Ursinus students (aka Bears), faculty and staff urge one another to “Protect our Den” through mask wearing, social distancing, and weekly testing of everyone on campus. They’ve also placed restrictions on visitors. Due to their discipline and diligence, there have been no significant outbreaks of COVID on campus.
- Residents can follow the students’ progress on the College’s COVID Dashboard
- See also the Philadelphia Inquirer article At Ursinus College, all students are tested for the coronavirus every week.
Introducing Collegeville’s Business & Dining Interactive Map
As part of our comprehensive planning contract with Montgomery County, Montco Planner Mike Lowrey developed the Borough of Collegeville Business & Dining Map — an interactive map of Borough businesses which provides a listing of Borough restaurants, retail and services.
- Is formatted to be easily read and can be used on mobile as well as desktop and tablet.
- Is especially useful if you don’t know your way around the borough. It functions as a map and directory.
- Can help you find a specific type of store or restaurant you can easily walk to. A great tool for a walkable community.
- Provides top line info on each business: Location, a Map It link to the address in Google Maps and link to their website.
The map is made from a web-based mapping application assembled from existing county and borough GIS data, and content from both Google Maps and the websites of Collegeville’s local businesses.
Using the same tools, Mike is also designing an interactive zoning map, which will provide the BDC with a birds’-eye view of our Collegeville Main Street properties so we can more easily work through how to maximize the buildings, green space, and parking.
The interactive zoning map will also be used in the future when the BDC presents plans at public meetings.
Need Temporary Help at Your Home or Business This Winter?
If you need help with temporary or small jobs such as yard work, snow shoveling, babysitting, tutoring, and more, you can hire an Ursinus or other college student through Quad Jobs. This free online program allows you to post your job and advertise directly to students who’ve posted profiles. They earn money; you get the help you need.
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.