It was reported in January, 2021 that thanks to a grant for $1 million, the Perkiomen Bridge Hotel in Collegeville “could soon see new life“. This caused some to express excitement that the hotel would finally be restored. Considering the condition it’s in and its location in the flood zone, it will take more than a million dollars to give it new life: It will take a miracle.
In this post I’d like to provide some much needed perspective.
“Do something with the Perkiomen Bridge Hotel” is a refrain heard often in the Collegeville region. You hear it in the car when driving past with family or friends. It shows up in comments in any hotel related social media post. And it appeared in replies to the CEDC’s 2019 business survey. By do something the commenters mean one of two things: 1) develop and implement a plan that will restore it to a usable state and allow one or more businesses to operate out of it, or 2) remove it.
The property is located in the Borough of Collegeville but the borough has no obligation to restore or maintain it. That falls upon the owner. But there are steps that communities can do to force an owner to prevent demolition by neglect. Collegeville has begun to take those steps by adopting an ordinance requiring building inspections and allowing the Borough to fine delinquent owners. And recently the borough’s Business Development Committee reached out to the local historical society for guidance, in case a developer / preservation partnership can be implemented.
Can the Hotel be Saved?
Those who argue for saving it say doing so would improve community and economic development in the Borough, and help to preserve the history of the region. The argument puts the cart before the horse. To save the hotel you have to ask: Can anyone — developer, preservationist or even the county — take on the costs and make a return on their investment?
Let’s say hypothetically that a developer and a group of preservationists got together to come up with a plan for saving the hotel, and raised the necessary millions of dollars to implement it. What are they up against?
There are three options for restoration and all are influenced by annual flooding of the Perkiomen Creek: Restore it in situ; raise it above the 100 year flood zone and restore it, again in situ; and move it to a new location and restore it. Let’s begin by defining the situation created by the flood.
Water From Below
Flooding of the hotel happens in one or both of two phases. In a Phase One flood, the lower parking lot and all or part of the foundation are flooded. In a Phase Two flood, the water covers the upper parking lot and the approximately 10,000 square foot first floor as well.
During a Phase One flood parking spaces along the back and bridge side of the building — more than half of the spaces — are unavailable. When the water recedes, the flooded lots will have to be cleared of debris before reuse. Storage and utilities in the foundation may also need remediation.
In a Phase Two flood there must be remediation to the upper parking lot and to the interior of the entire first floor as well.
Both Phase One and Phase Two flooding will require mold remediation to the building.
Option one — restore it in situ — would have to take into account the loss of business during times of flooding, as well as the cost of remediation. Then, because it usually floods again within a year, the loss of business and the remediation process begins anew.
Can anyone make a business work in that location or circumstance considering the necessary and repetitive investment?
The hotel has been discussed by potential developers for use as a restaurant, a boutique hotel, an event / meeting space or combination of them all. Imagine if one of these businesses was there and a flood came. In a Phase One flood they couldn’t open and they’d have to cancel reservations for days because the majority of parking spaces are underwater. In a Phase Two flood they’d have the same but would be closed for several weeks for upper lot and interior remediation as well.
To help visualize the problems this would cause, imagine if the Collegeville Station, a restored property in the borough, flooded every year. Would the owner be able to attract or retain businesses? Would the popular Collegeville restaurants Troubles End Brewing and Bonjung Sushi & Korean BBQ have leased there?
Looking at this from a historic preservation angle, imagine if the current restoration efforts of The Speaker’s House in Trappe, was set back yearly by flooding. And when completed it flooded yearly as well. Would the restoration have been initiated? Would it be as far along as it is? And once restored how do you maintain it?
Option two is to raise it above the 100-year flood zone and restore it. To clear the zone the first floor must be raised to at least the height of the second floor porch.
One scenario is to raise the hotel alone on a mound in the middle of the lot. This will require stairways and ADA ramps that intrude into the parking lots eliminating some parking spaces. And still, the lower lots will flood.
A second scenario is to raise both the hotel and the ground around it with a wall on all four sides. This will require a two lane inclined driveway to reach the parking lot which too will eliminate parking spaces. Because the surrounding wall will “change the course, current, or cross section” of the Perkiomen Creek, it will require a Water Obstruction and Encroachment Permit from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP).
A Pennsylvania house and building moving company roughly estimated the price of raising the hotel at $750,000. That price doesn’t include the cost of engineering and the multiple contractors necessary to perform general, electrical, plumbing and other contracting duties. Nor the cost of restoring it inside and out.
Option three — move it. Before it was moved, the Chez Odette restaurant in New Hope had several additions like the Perkiomen Bridge Hotel has. The additions were removed and only the core, historic part of the building was saved and moved. The same would have to happen here and approximately two thirds of the first floor, including the addition housing the modern kitchen, would be lost.
To understand the complexity of moving the hotel let’s look at a hypothetical move to West First Avenue where the borough is developing a creek side park (map it) and possibly the only place it can go. First, that location is at the same height in the flood zone and the hotel would have to be raised there as well. And second, the route must accommodate a 3 and 1/2 story building on a dolly 8 or more feet high. You’d have to move traffic signal arms and power lines, and trim trees extensively.
The only possible route is up Main Street, south on Second Avenue and down Chestnut Street Extension.
While engineers from the moving firm would have to make an exact determination, a masonry building of this size and weight would have to be restricted to a route with a maximum 1 inch to 1 foot, or 8.3% slope. Main Street and Chestnut Street Extension are approximately .5% and 1.5% respectively, well within the range. The more difficult part of house moving is the transitions: entering and exiting roadways and drives of differing slope, such as entering Second Avenue from Main Street.
Considering the cost and logistics of moving it, ask yourself what it would do when it got there. Heavily damaged, a portion of its current size, away from the high traffic arterial and still in the flood zone, what could you expect of it for a business or historic venture?
Water From Above and More
Sitting in traffic on the Perkiomen Bridge you can see the broken and plywood covered windows on the upper floors of the hotel. And leaks in the roof went unrepaired for several years. Through these openings rainstorms sent water into the building from above. As a result there is damage to flooring, interior walls and ceilings. And with the water comes mold.
Since 2012, thieves have broken in and removed copper plumbing and heating lines several times. Outside, trees and shrubs grow in the gaps that have opened up between the macadam of the parking lots and the foundation.
The hotel has been unused since 2005 — 16 years. The previous owner ran a nightclub on the first floor. On the last night of operation the staff returned dirty dishes to the kitchen, and left them, along with dirty pots and pans, unscraped and unwashed, and walked away. Rats and mice feasted on the spoils and no one cleaned that up either.
Those who commented “do something with the Perkiomen Bridge Hotel” didn’t have the benefit of this chronicle.
In addition to what I’ve provided here, the $1 million grant referenced in the beginning of this post is not money free and clear. To get it the owner has six months to come up with a plan which as I write this — two months after his notification — hasn’t begun. Considering all the above the Perkiomen Bridge Hotel won’t “see new life” anytime soon. And if the restoration options are unachievable that leaves only to remove it. That in itself requires planning and money.
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