Wednesday, March 23, 2011

King of Prussia advances business improvement district

"A fledgling King of Prussia Business Improvement District has begun to make progress on its mission.

Since being ratified last July, a board has been established, executive director hired and five areas pinpointed for improvement. That all came after nearly three years of exploring the idea of forming an improvement district and getting the business community to buy into the idea that King of Prussia — a major destination for the region — could benefit from such an organization.

“Things take a while,” said Richard Kubach, who helped spearhead the effort and serves as chairman of the business district’s board. “It’s an opportunity for businesses to speak with a common voice on issues that are important and on issues that aren’t represented through a chamber.”

Other area improvement districts are in Ardmore, along City Avenue, Center City, Jenkintown and West Chester. The districts supplement services provided by local governments with capital improvements, maintenance, streetscaping, business promotion and special events. In King of Prussia, the business improvement district covers 1,900 acres. A special tax on commercial property owners will annually raise about $1 million to fund the effort.

While the district was initiated by the business community, it was supported by Upper Merion officials. Eric Goldstein, who once oversaw the University City District, was hired in January as its new executive director.

Kubach has been an owner of the Best Western at the intersection of Route 202 and South Gulph Road since 1973, having watched King of Prussia progress into a bustling area with the East Coast’s largest mall and the headquarters of many companies.

Kubach has seen how increasingly the area suffers from traffic congestion, tax policies that have prompted some companies to locate their headquarters a little ways down the road in Tredyffrin instead of Upper Merion, and, among other issues, a lack of landscaping and other improvements that could soften acres of concrete and asphalt that greet visitors.

The district will focus on five areas.

Physical Improvements — There are certain gateways, such as at Route 202 and South Gulph and Route 202 and Henderson Road, that lend themselves to signaling that someone has arrived in King of Prussia. A request for proposals has been sent out for gateway signs and streetscaping and landscaping certain areas will follow, Goldstein said.

Transportation — A study is under way to delve into extending the Norristown Highspeed line that would transport people to the mall, the industrial and commercial areas and Port Kennedy.

“We’ve benefited from the improvements of Route 202 but as a result of that work, we have tie-ups on Route 202, problems on South Gulph Road,” Kubach said. “An extension would help move employees.”

Marketing and Communication — Three core areas, retail, business and hospitality/tourism will be marketed, Goldstein said. Already a regional study has been conducted that gives a snapshot of King of Prussia that will help shape marketing and advertising campaigns. In addition, the improvement district has issued an RFP for a consumer and B2B market study.

Taxation — While King of Prussia already has a concentration of companies, “we want to make sure we’re high on the relocation list,” Goldstein said. “There are tax policies involved in that and business decisions that companies are making and some of them are taxation. We know it’s a major issue and it’s something we want to get around.”

Gardner Denver Inc. is apparently one company that decided to move its headquarters to Chesterbrook Corporate Center rather than King of Prussia because of the impact of its gross receipts tax, which was begun to tax the mall but potentially affects any business in town, according to people familiar with the situation.

Land use and zoning — The group will evaluate the land-use policies that have shaped King of Prussia and recommend ways to revise them."

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