Friday, October 28, 2011

Zoning changes, marketing help revive business park

by Peter Van Allen
"LOWER PROVIDENCE — An aging business park that was on the wane two years ago has turned itself around — with a little help.

Changes in zoning and more aggressive marketing by the township have helped Park Pointe at Lower Providence revive its fortunes.

“In spite of the downturn of the economy in 2008, the ongoing commitment of the board of supervisors and the due diligence of staff — reaching out, being creative and minimizing hurdles — we’re now starting to see the fruits of our labor,” said Joseph Dunbar, township manager.

In less than a year, the business park has added 330 employees.

This week, 85 of those jobs came with the addition of Reilly Foam Corp., a manufacturer that took over a 140,000-square-foot site at Park Pointe.

“We reviewed proximity to our present facility to ensure most of our employees could make the transition, access to public transportation, location of major roads, availability of an educated workforce, and pricing levels. But the single most important factor was the level of cooperation we received from Lower Providence Township,” said Stephen Phillips, president of Reilly Foam, which was founded four decades ago in a Roxborough garage. It now has sites in four states.

Other companies that have taken space in Park Pointe include Horizon Services, an HVAC company with 90 employees; Star Career Academy, with 25 employees; and, by month’s end, a Chickie’s & Pete’s restaurant, which will have 100 employees.

In addition, township officials were able to retain two longtime tenants: PJM Interconnect, which signed a long-term lease and kept 625 jobs in the township, and Quest Diagnostics, which signed a 12-year lease for 137,000 square feet, saving 585 jobs.

“The partnership and support from the township played an important role,” said PJM’s facilities manager, Dave Spangler.

Two years ago, the outlook was not so rosy for the 300-acre business park, which dated to the late 1960s.

It was showing signs of age. Longtime manufacturing tenants were leaving or downsizing. Total employment at the park was 3,220, down from the 1982 peak of 4,341, when tenants included Hewlett-Packard, General Electric and Volkswagen, which had a parts-distribution facility there.

As the vacancy rate grew during the recession, the township was losing valuable tax revenue.

Working with the business park’s manager, Bill Roth, township officials knew they had to take steps to change things.

At the time, Dunbar said the No. 1 complaint was that the park had no amenities.

“It’s a real ’60s-style business park,” Dunbar said at the time.

Still, the business park’s key asset may have been proximity — on South Trooper Road, minutes from the burgeoning Route 422 corridor.

A $15.6 million interchange was already planned for Route 422, improving access to the site. To improve the park’s roads, the township spent $620,000 to upgrade infrastructure.

Officials sought and received a zoning change that allow for a wider range of businesses, including restaurants and retailers.

And like many marketing efforts, the makeover included a name change — from Valley Forge Corporate Center to Park Pointe at Lower Providence.

The township unveiled new signs for the business park on Oct. 26.
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