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Quakertown’s quantum leap in development

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The recently restored Free Press Building on West Broad Street in downtown Quakertown is part of growing revitalization efforts in the Upper Bucks borough.
PHOTO/MELINDA RIZZO
The recently restored Free Press Building on West Broad Street in downtown Quakertown is part of growing revitalization efforts in the Upper Bucks borough. PHOTO/MELINDA RIZZO

Business and development are booming in Quakertown.

Attracting redevelopment to vacant buildings, borough officials have launched rebranding efforts with a growing inventory of attractive, upscale renovation projects likely worth more than $5 million of investment the past two years.

Eight major projects have been completed or are on the books for redevelopment.

“My office has never been busier,” said Douglas Wilhelm, Quakertown code enforcement officer and fire marshal.

Developers have been repurposing turn-of-the-century vacant and aging manufacturing properties, turning them into professional offices, apartments and fresh retail and consumer services such as salons, boutiques and a yoga studio.

“Efforts are paying off,” said Ed Scholl, Quakertown economic development consultant and a former councilman in the borough. “People drive through and they see empty storefronts, but they don’t realize there are developers who are rehabilitating buildings. …

“People [are] reinvesting in the buildings, and these are the ones that are filling up.”

APARTMENTS/COMMERCIAL RENOVATION

The latest renovation coup is the former Thermco Products building, a vacant, ramshackle manufacturing property known as the “ribbon factory” in the 1400 block of West Broad Street (Routes 663/313).

A concept plan and conditional use for the property recently were approved by borough council.

“It’s excellent to see that building to be repurposed into something attractive and make it a viable part of the landscape,” said Don Rosenberger, Quakertown Council president.

The conditional use approval calls for 62 apartments, eight commercial spaces and a 4,640-square-foot indoor mini-storage facility by developer Ranger Properties LLC of New York. No other details or time frame on the plan were disclosed.

PUBLIC MARKET

An indoor public market, inspired by the Easton Public Market, is sought for West Broad Street in Quakertown. Wilhelm said no land development plans have been filed yet for the project.

However, sketch plans calls for redevelopment of the former J&D Whistle Stop hobby shop, an adjacent building and the trolley barn at 106 E. Broad St.

Planned nearby is the relocation of Fries Rebellion Kitchen & Tap House to the freight house property, next to the historic train station, on East Broad Street. An outdoor beer and wine garden have been proposed with the plan.

HIP DESTINATION

Scholl compared the two train-station area projects to places in Philadelphia and Allentown, offering a variety of services and amenities under one roof as a hip destination.

He noted while the public market was being crafted with millennials and Generation X in mind, the mix of commercial tenants would appeal to multiple generations and demographics.

“It’s meant to be someplace everyone is comfortable,” Scholl said.

COMPLETED PROJECTS

Renovations completed over the past two years include the Free Press Building on West Broad Street and the former Moose Lodge building on East Broad Street. Both buildings are fully leased, Scholl said.

Renovations last year transformed the former Karlton Theater building, adding a ladies boutique and six luxury second-floor apartments.

The building has been the home of Karlton Café restaurant for more than a decade, which had mechanical systems upgraded.

FUTURE DIVIDENDS

Officials are hoping restaurants, shopping, a well-maintained park system and an expanded outdoor summer concert series – sponsored by Univest – will attract more visitors and investors to downtown Quakertown.

Annette D. Szygiel, executive vice president and chief experience officer for Univest, said the company has been part of the Quakertown community for more than 40 years and was eager to support the downtown’s growth.

“It was an easy decision to make,” Szygiel, who is based in Souderton, said of the naming rights sponsorship of the concert venue.

“Concert-goers will add to tourism and consume the goods and services of local businesses, which will be great for Quakertown’s revitalization effort as a whole.”

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