Years in the making, the pieces are coming together for a full-fledged revitalization of Quakertown, officials said.
The arrival of the Chamber of Commerce and heightened collaboration between agencies are key reasons behind the revival, which is seeing the opening of new businesses and the renovation of old buildings into apartments, restaurants and retail shops. Quakertown Alive!, the downtown Main Street revitalization program, borough officials and an increased push for government grants also have contributed to the surge in activity.
“There is an energy and excitement now in the downtown we’ve not seen before,” said Tara King, executive director of the Upper Bucks Chamber of Commerce.
Bringing a strong membership base and marketing expertise, the chamber in October moved from Milford Township to Quakertown at 26 N. Main St., inside the home of the former Quakertown Historical Society. A grand opening is planned for April.
“We’re excited to have the Upper Bucks Chamber located here, along with some fresh ideas to encourage outside firms and businesses to bring their operations to the borough,” King said.
She said that working with the Bucks County Economic Development Corp., based in Doylestown, included a new approach to marketing some of the available larger, light manufacturing buildings in the downtown.
“There are several under-used and abandoned buildings in Quakertown which could be prime sights for new development,” King said.
Two recent projects include the rehabilitation of the former J. Griffin building on the corner of Front Street and Park Avenue.
The circa 1893 historic building and former clothing manufacturer was converted into six upscale loft apartments, all of which are fully rented, according to Mike Cygan, owner of Lewis-Brothers, a construction firm in Quakertown. The building renovation, by Bucks Preservationists of Perkasie, was completed in November 2012, Cygan said.
Several years ago, Lewis Brothers and Bucks Preservationists reclaimed another building, now home to Moon Dog Yoga Studio and Serenity Fitness, at the corner of Front and Juniper streets.
“More than 50 different skilled tradesmen worked on the 10,000-square-foot [Griffin] building, and our total investment was roughly $850,000,” Cygan said. He said newcomers to the area are renting his apartments.
“It’s been good for the local economy,” Lewis said of the project.
Under renovation, the former Dimmig Electric building, which is about 10,000 square feet and on W. Broad Street, is expected to include a restaurant and retail stores.
Quakertown Borough Manager Scott McElree said the buzz is the result of years of hard work behind the scenes, including the borough’s efforts and those of Quakertown Alive!
“A lot of pieces are coming together,” McElree said.
“From tax benefits from the Local Economic Revitalization Tax Abatement program designation, to properties we have available in the borough, there are a lot of reasons for new investment to come to Quakertown,” McElree said.
“We have always been strategic in our efforts to downtown revitalization,” said Naomi Naylor, manager for Quakertown Alive!
Together, Quakertown officials and downtown organizations are asking businesses to “Love Local” – the newest slogan aimed at attracting new investment and businesses, Naylor said.
While the downtown “triangle” is best associated with Quakertown Borough’s business district, the area encompasses a larger footprint.
“From Yum Yum Donuts to our antiques district on Belmont and Hellertown avenues, we consider all of this area to be the downtown business district,” Naylor said.
Naylor said grant funding through a variety of county and state agencies over the past several years has offered funding benefits to businesses through fašade improvement programs, the installation of wrought iron street lighting and plans for brick paving pedestrian cross walkways.
Last year, the triangle area, which includes parking, received a makeover, too, which included a fountain, benches, and new stonework. All the improvements are aimed at attracting businesses and new consumer traffic into the downtown, Naylor said.
Roughly $1 million has been spent over the past several years through state and local grant funding efforts on downtown revitalization, Naylor said.
“Borough council has recently passed an ordinance, which is aimed at promoting and encouraging more pedestrian traffic. We want Quakertown to become even more of a walking town,” McElree said.
King said negotiations for projects involving several buildings were under way but that she could not disclose details.
“We can’t talk about them just yet,” King said.