Sunday, January 10, 2010

Valley Forge Corporate Center is getting a facelift

This is very much overdue to make VFCC & Lower Providence competitive again.

"A Montgomery County township is a step closer to revitalizing an aging business park.

Lower Providence hopes to bring new life to the 300-acre Valley Forge Corporate Center, enticing developers to add retail, restaurants and possibly apartments or condominiums.

Last month, it received zoning approval for the changes that would open the door to retail and other uses, and now the township is moving aggressively to invite developers in.

“The feedback we were getting from businesses was that there were no amenities. It’s a real ’60s-style business park,” said Township Manager Joseph Dunbar, adding that businesses there want transportation, casual dining restaurants, recreation, energy efficient buildings and walking trails.

The business park was developed in the late 1960s. At its peak, in 1982, it had 4,341 employees. Today, there are about 3,220, said Project Manager Bill Roth. About 43 percent of the park’s space is vacant, though that figure was more than 50 percent in 2004. There are more than 40 individual building owners within the compound.

About 775 jobs have been lost in recent years, including cuts at Lockheed Martin, bearing maker SKF Group and United Kingdom-based Almac Group, which has a clinical-services site here.

Municipal officials describe the business park as a hybrid of dated industrial warehouses and aging office buildings with a sprinkling of modern facilities.

“In its heyday, it was an industrial park,” Dunbar said.

At that time, the site was bustling with plants run by Hewlett-Packard, General Electric and Allen-Bradley (now a division of Rockwell Automation Solution), a maker of industrial equipment. Volkswagen had a parts distribution facility.

In 2007, the township started the process of reinventing the industrial center and creating a master plan for growth. It hired a landscape architect, urban planner and engineer to work with township officials, property owners and tenants. Its goals were simple: create and retain jobs, fill buildings and increase property values.

Lower Providence Township, 17 miles west of Philadelphia, includes the villages of Audubon, Collegeville, Trooper, Eagleville, Yerkes and Evansburg.

To date, the township has invested $144,000 on the master plan study, $620,000 for infrastructure improvements and $120,000 for the plan implementation.

Marie Altieri, a member of the board of supervisors, described the 300-acre business park as “a lifeline.”

“We look at this as the future; it’s revenue generating. Lower Providence Township is built out. This business park had been ignored for many, many years. The vision of the board is to revitalize it and create long-term revenue. That’s been our focus for three years,” Altieri said.

Officials are rolling out the welcome mat for pharmaceutical, biotechnology, financial services, medical uses and data companies.

Access to the site could improve with a new interchange planned for Route 422. But construction on the $15.6 million interchange is expected to start next year, and its impact likely won’t be felt for a few years.

With development money in the deep freeze and the recession still fresh on people’s minds, redevelopment will be a long-term effort, officials said. Several developers have expressed interest in the parcel, though to date no one has stepped forward.

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