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Perkasie Pipes Up – Covered in Lehigh Valley Business Journal

Lehigh Valley Business Journal
By Brian Pedersen, August 31, 2015 at 8:00 AM

In June in Perkasie, a three-story building started going up on a property vacant for nearly three decades following a devastating fire.

It was a groundbreaking with significant meaning for residents, officials, executives and business owners. Perkasie, you see, may be a tiny borough – but it boasts big plans for economic development.

Bucks County Soapstone Co. on West Walnut Street is an example of a downtown Perkasie business that renovated its storefront, adding planters to beauty the streetscape. – (Photo / Brian Pedersen)

It was a groundbreaking with significant meaning for residents, officials, executives and business owners. Perkasie, you see, may be a tiny borough – but it boasts big plans for economic development.The $2.3 million American House at Perkasie represents the beginning of a surge in revitalization throughout the borough, including hundreds of new residential units, many of them upscale, and the potential to attract businesses using corporate jets at Pennridge Airport in Perkasie and neighboring East Rockhill Township.

Add a growing push to highlight and promote downtown businesses and attract a nighttime business cycle of entertainment and dining options, and the borough has the makings of a rejuvenation that could spark strong economic growth. It could even serve as a potential model for other smaller municipalities to follow.

“It’s going to be a lot of big steps in a very short period of time,” said Andrea Coaxum, borough manager, who said The American House project should be complete by the end of the year. The American House will include luxury apartments and retail space on the former site of the American House Hotel, a landmark hotel and restaurant destroyed by fire in 1988.

Next door, developers Tom Skiffington and Dan Solliday should break ground on a three-story building on the former site of a five-and-dime store, which will become retail space and luxury apartments, a growing attraction in Perkasie.

The project will include six residential units on the second and third V7-308279999.jpg&maxW=430&maxH=1500floors and two retail spaces on the first floor, Coaxum said.

Another project underway involves a plan to renovate the old general store at 606 W. Chestnut St. next to Borough Hall. Workers have exposed the ceilings and gutted the building, which offers opportunities for adaptive reuse.

“What’s exciting is people are looking at all the properties in the downtown district,” said Steve Barth, economic development consultant for Perkasie. “We are trying to set a good example to other communities.

“We are creating adaptive reuses of our buildings. It spurred this accelerated interest.”

Plans are to build hundreds of townhouses and single-family homes in the borough, which would spur growth in revitalizing old properties into fresh, viable businesses.

By revamping older, vacant buildings into high-end apartments in the downtown, Perkasie could become successful at attracting people who want to live in that type of environment, fueling future residential growth, particularly for luxury rentals.

As an example, one project of a revitalized building at Ninth and Market streets includes marble window sills, exposed pipes and brick walls.

Once fully built, the borough could have close to 300 new housing units with a combined value of about $100 million in construction costs.

This includes 144 townhouses going in at the corner of Constitution and Spruce avenues at the site of a former manufacturing facility that had gone out of business. The project, called Perkasie Woods, is expected to offer housing, built in phases, with an average listing price of $300,000.

Meanwhile, a 29-acre parcel off South Main Street is slated for 58 single-family housing units in the $400,000 to $500,000 range. Though the housing would support the town center growth, the plan has not been approved by the borough planning commission, Barth said.

A third residential project at Ninth and Park Avenue will bring 18 single-family housing units in the $300,000 to $400,000 range.

One of the community’s big-picture goals is to provide a variety of housing, from apartments to twin houses, single-family homes and townhouses.

With new housing coming online, it will generate about $20 million of new disposable income to Perkasie, in addition to new unearned income tax, Barth said.

“Property values are expected to rise,” he said. “The entire community participates in the economic growth.”

By courting high-end developers, the borough is looking to capitalize on luxury housing.

Perkasie also is looking to create two business cycles, so that with a small, walkable downtown, it could have office activity during the day and more nightlife with the addition of restaurants and specialty stores.

While the borough takes pride in its small mom-and-pop-type establishments, it also has several established name businesses.

“There is a place for every kind of use here in Perkasie,” Coaxum said. “We need those downtown businesses, too; they are a key part to the comprehensive plan. A lot of development stems from the borough being proactive, working with developers in advance, getting all the key departments in the room.”

Officials look at properties that need revitalization and determine what would be the highest and best use for them, and then find developers and architects that do similar projects.

Coaxum and Barth acknowledged the highly progressive members of borough council helped fast-track economic development.

“It’s driven from the borough council,” Barth said. “They will tell you that Perkasie is business-friendly.”

Robert Cormack, executive director of the Bucks County Economic Development Corp. in Doylestown, said Perkasie officials have done a good job of promoting the assets of the borough to drive growth.

“I think it’s a combination of the right place at the right time and a lot of hard work from local officials,” Cormack said. “I think that combination is making it work.”

He also envisions more retail opportunities in the downtown.

More restaurants, specialty stores, candy shops, a shoe store and a jewelry store are all examples of the types of establishments the community would like to see, Barth said.

The borough has been working closely with the owner of the Pennridge Airport to develop vacant properties at the airport.

Officials are exploring business opportunities and would like to see more use of corporate jet travel.

“One of the things we would like to do is to attract corporate people from the Lehigh Valley who want the corporate jet experience,” Barth said. “What we are hoping is that we can develop corporate parks that either have national or international companies.”

Companies in the biotechnology, life sciences or aviation sectors might have customers around the U.S. or world and could draw more business growth to Perkasie.

The airport property has existing companies and outlying parcels that are vacant.

“It allows us to position ourselves much differently in terms of growing corporate business,” Barth said. “We’re working on a holistic approach to everything, creating jobs and creating housing.”

Cormack also sees possibilities at the airport, particularly for manufacturing and office users.

He and Tara King, executive director of the Upper Bucks Chamber of Commerce, have been in discussions with the airport owner, Cormack added.

With the national economy turning a corner, Skiffington said it appears as though Perkasie is, as well.

“I think the economy is changing a little bit,” he said. “I think people are starting to focus on it a little more.

“Hopefully, I think that combination of all that is helping Perkasie expand.”