Near the end of last night’s Borough Council meeting there was a discussion about the two proposals submitted in response to the RFP that sought a buyer/developer for the grass area at West Elm and Fayette, the adjacent old fire house and the Verizon Building at West 4th and Fayette. The properties are all owned by the Borough and the RFP process was handled by the Montco Redevelopment Authority.
During the discussion we learned three things. There was a desire among at least some members of council to seek assurances from both developers that they won’t sign-up chain restaurants for the retail spaces that are included within the proposals. Both developers, Keystone Property Group and Brandywine Realty Trust responded that their plans did not incorporate bringing in national chains. So basically you are not going to be able to get free breadsticks or a bottomless salad in the old fire house.
Secondly, we learned that Brandywine came prepared last night with an alternative proposal. Their original proposal was for a large office tower at West Elm and Fayette and knocking down the Verizon Building and building a Borough Hall and Police Station at that location. The new proposal still builds an office tower, but now offers the option of building Borough Hall and the Police Station adjacent to the old fire house. The old fire house would still become a restaurant.
If the alternative proposal was selected, Brandywine would then offer retail, with a possible grocery/market component, at the Verizon Building. The upper floors would be apartments.
Thirdly we found out that not one elected official in Conshy knows anything about the Lafayette Corridor Project at the far end of Conshohocken Road (at one point they asked the reporter from the Times Herald for information and he declined). This phased project is designed to improve the traffic situation on Ridge in Plymouth and Norristown and drive redevelopment. It broke ground earlier this month on the first phase which connects Lafayette Street from Conshohocken Road up to Ford Street. The second phase will get rid of the section of Conshohocken Road between the overpass and Ridge. The Times Herald reports:
As part of Phase II, the Conshohocken Road connection to Ridge Pike will be abandoned, and the Diamond Avenue intersection with Ridge Pike will replace it with a new traffic light. Phase II will take two years to complete and will be finished in summer 2016. Funding for the second contract has already been secured.
The third phase is unfunded but seeks to put an exit off the turnpike at this location. Below is a map of the project (you can see this map and a full description of the project in the link titled Lafayette Corridor Project above):
As you can see on the above map (you can enlarge it by clicking on it), once this project is complete, if you drive from Conshohocken toward Ridge via West Elm and Conshohocken Road, you will no longer be able to reach Ridge directly, but will end up on Lafayette Street. We have been trying to get this clarified, but the person who is the local lead on this project hasn’t emailed us back. So if you have been anticipating the reopening of the West Elm Bridge, it may not have the impact you were opening for. But we will continue to try to get clarification.
The Lafayette Hill Corridor Project also anticipates the redevelopment of Conshohocken Road. From the same Times Herald story:
Plymouth Council Chairman Sheldon Simpson said the project would relieve the “congestion of traffic on Ridge Pike” for Plymouth residents.
“This project will open up Ridge Pike,” Simpson said. “Over the next 15 years it will open up new opportunities for businesses on Conshohocken Road. We’re excited by that prospect.”
We are going to have a larger story on the Lafayette Corridor Project. The above is just to give you an idea on how Borough Council made a redevelopment decision last night without knowledge of what is happening at the other end of same street (West Elm/Conshohocken Road) in Plymouth/Norristown.
Back to last night’s meeting. Councilperson Anita Barton suggested they wait to vote until they could further examine Brandywine’s new proposal, but a motion was made to select Keystone’s proposal. The vote was 6-1 in favor of selecting Keystone’s proposal. Barton was the lone vote against accepting it.
So what happens now? The Montco Redevelopment Authority will start the formal process of selling the properties. Keystone is not going to start building a hotel tomorrow. Keystone will have to go through zoning, planning, land development, etc. There are going to be a lot of public meetings about this and it is going to take time. The first thing you are going to see happen is the rehab of the Verizon Building.
During the process that is about to start, you can also expect Keystone’s plan to be vetted in more detail and things to be adjusted. For example, the old fire house becoming a restaurant isn’t set in stone. As the plans move forward it could be determined that a restaurant doesn’t make sense because of the restaurants that exist across the street. So Keystone could figure out a different use for that space or could be encouraged to rethink it by Borough Council.
We plan on covering this story closely. Stay tuned.