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After attending this evening's Council meeting, and hearing some of the public comments regarding a conversation my firm has begun to have with the Borough regarding a Master Redevelopment & Revitalization project in our downtown, I thought I would come here and clarify some perceived misconceptions that have come to light, as well as offer my contact information to any residents who would like to discuss the process further.
Before I do, however, I would like to reference a post I made here nearly 3 years ago, just after moving to Ridley Park, and before I actually became an employee of the firm that the Borough is currently engaged with (Sora Northeast) about the aforementioned project. The link that follows is representative of the genesis of the current conversation we are having. In it I give a brief, honest assessment from (at the time) a new Ridley Park resident who believed that our downtown had the potential to become a miniature version of Media, PA; a thriving, family-friendly, walkable area full of shops and restaurants that could not only get my attention, but keep me coming back and spending money time after time.
I'd also like to say that tonight I was mistakenly accused of being an opportunistic employee of a real estate development company looking to uproot the residents of our downtown with a bulldozer for my own personal financial gain. While I can sympathize with the thought process that might lead someone to make that assumption at such an early stage in a process like this, I would like to say that what I actually am is a husband and father living in a modest home in a town that I absolutely love, looking to help its downtown become a place I don't just drive through anymore on my way to Media when my family and I want to shop and eat. I am a salaried employee of a real estate development company. One that happens to specialize in the redevelopment of under-utilized and blighted areas. I wasn't purposefully planted here in some top-secret plan to knock over the existing buildings in our downtown and replace them with a Trader Joe's and a Dunkin' Donuts. The fact that I live in Ridley Park and Ridley Park is a candidate for this type of project is actually a matter of pure coincidence. What isn't a coincidence is that no other developer has ever come to Ridley Park and proposed turning its downtown into something its residents can be extremely proud of and frequent as shoppers and diners. Something that will not only increase our tax base, but create a destination for residents of other towns to come into and spend their money supporting our shops and restaurants as well. If you believe we already have that, I respectfully disagree with you. If it is something that you believe will benefit us, as residents, than I invite you to keep reading.
Here's the link to that post, for the sake of reference. At the time my current employer was just a client of mine (my background is in real estate sales) who had been the Master Redeveloper of downtown Glassboro, NJ (Rowan Boulevard is how the project is known if you are unfamiliar and would like to Google it), and I thought Ridley Park might actually be a candidate for them, albeit on a much smaller scale.
The City Council member I reference in it is Dan Broadhurst, who I met as he walked his dog past my house one day shortly after I moved in, while I was tearing up my front yard. As it turned out, Dan, a lifelong resident of Ridley Park, shared the same idealistic vision for the town he grew up in as I did, and as time wore on, we began to discuss whether a Redevelopment Plan in our downtown might actually be something worth exploring.
Ridley Park had produced a Revitalization Plan in 2005, as most of you know, but due to the economic circumstances of the times, among other factors, it never got any further than utilizing some grant money to create some more attractive streetscapes, at least as far as I can tell.
The reality of this process to date is that a redevelopment effort in Ridley Park didn't exactly fit the profile of my company at first. Not because it wasn't potentially viable, but because it just wasn't big enough. The Rowan Boulevard project in Glassboro was a $300,000,000 project, and Ridley Park, well, it wasn't! But I remained persistent (see:begged), and over time convinced our Principal and team to take a look at the opportunity, and basically do me the favor of running some preliminary pro forma scenarios to see if it was something worth exploring further.
As it turned out, it did warrant further exploration, and in the Spring of 2016, we were invited by City Council to make a very preliminary presentation about our vision and discuss the process. To educate them to a certain degree, I suppose you could say. And the conversation began...
In that initial meeting, our Principal talked about the process of redevelopment. He talked about how important patience would be if we were to explore this opportunity together with the local government, residents, and business owners. No promises were made, no "secret deals" were struck (as someone alluded to this evening), and no concrete plan for the downtown was introduced. What was introduced was an extremely preliminary idea about what a redeveloped downtown could look like, assuming nearly all the parcels were included. As our then Director Of Development stated very matter of factly, the overlay of the downtown we presented represented a "10,000 foot view". We were asked to provide a picture to assist in starting the conversation, and without any input from anyone or anything other than the plan that the Borough itself had sponsored and produced in 2005, that's what we did.
Since that meeting, we have been invited back a handful of times to continue the conversation, and most recently we met (at their suggestion) with a collection of business and property owners in the downtown to answer any questions they might have about the process; how it works, how it is funded, how it might affect them, what their concerns are at this stage, and what they would like to see as we (hopefully) move forward gathering information and continuing the conversation. Since we are talking about the downtown, the business owners seemed like a logical place to start, and I want to apologize to anyone who isn't a business owner who felt as if they were deliberately not included in that meeting. The reality is that in a process like this, the town has to be divided into smaller groups in order for us to achieve our goal of logging and processing feedback, especially at such a preliminary stage. Again, I think some of the comments this evening came from a lack of knowledge about this process, something I would be happy to clarify to anyone interested.
The reception we received by the end of that meeting was extremely positive, and it was agreed upon that a logical next step from their perspective would be to resurrect the Business Owners Association (which apparently had become relatively stagnant in recent years), hold another meeting with business and land owners in the downtown to keep the conversation moving forward, and truly begin to put our collective finger on the pulse of what the appetite of our downtown would be for an undertaking of this magnitude. The business owners who attended were gravely concerned about their future, both in the short term (the scheduled bridge closing has some owners wondering if they will even survive another year) and long term, and I would invite anyone who is curious about the validity of those concerns to seek out and ask the business owners for yourself.
Getting back to my point, and I think this is where there appeared to be a severe disconnect tonight from some of the residents, I want to stress again that this is a process. And it's a long one. I've probably used the word "conversation" in this post more times than I can count, but that is deliberate. Because that is what this is. A conversation. And it's a conversation that we have, relatively speaking, just begun. If the town decides to continue taking next steps with us, we will hold meeting after meeting, and focus group after focus group, to ensure that we are all on the same page and understanding of exactly what impact a Master Redevelopment effort will have on a downtown that, in my honest opinion, really needs it. From the Mayor and City Council, to the business owners and landlords, to the residents, and the various committees and boards that make up the fabric of our community, everyone will have a say, and everything will be an open book. That's why I believe that for anyone to jump to conclusions and start shooting arrows (as was the case this evening) after only a few preliminary meetings and the beginnings of a conversation, is very premature. All I can ask is that you continue to listen to us, to allow us to listen to you as you ask us any and all of your questions, and ultimately help us to educate you as to what a revitalized downtown Ridley Park Borough would mean to you and your family.
For anyone who would like to talk to me personally, please send me a message and I would be happy to share my e-mail address or cell phone number with you. If you'd like to meet in person, I'd be happy to do so as well, my house or yours. Thank you for reading, and I sincerely look forward to continuing the conversation about Ridley Park.
Please contact me for the plan review, firstname.lastname@example.org 610 308 8548 cell, Charlie Maurone
I would strongly suggest that you formally advertise all future meetings so that the resident who will ultimately foot this bill may avail themselves. My fear is that business will come off the tax roles and the borough will have a gaping hole in the budget, not to mention that the borough will be required to be a monetary donor to this adventure. It is my opinion that this redevelopment of the downtown business district is not a good idea. The quaintness of our town has been leaving in leaps and bounds and to take away more of the historic buildings/stores just adds to the loss of the original architectural design of this community. Many, many questions to be answered. If the one employee of Sora Northeast who recently moved into the borough will be on council, I believe it is a direct conflict of interest and he cannot take part on the discussions or vote on this issue at all.
Please include the community, the H.A.R.B. and the Historical Society for input.
Thank you for your feedback. The first three meetings were held during Borough Workshops or regularly scheduled Council meetings, beginning last Spring, and were open to the public, of course. I don't know what means our government uses for conveying information to residents specific to meeting agendas, but you may want to ask Council to make the dates and times of any future meetings that will involve redevelopment discussions available via the Borough website, social medial channels, and community sites such as this. I will do the same. I can also assure you I have never had an interest in running for City Council, and if I did my wife will tell you she would kill me first! With regard to your comment about the quaintness of our town leaving, what we have heard from business owners is that the belief is that it is a direct result of a downtown that is severely struggling to both maintain successful businesses and attract new ones. I'd also ask you to keep an open mind on the redevelopment process, and reserve judgement on the perceived effects it would have on you as a resident until more information becomes available about the process and its advantages. I can assure you that everyone will have an opportunity to have their voice heard, including the H.A.R.B. and the Historical Society. If you would like, I can send you my contact information via private message and you can reach out to me anytime to discuss any questions you may have.
Thank you for the comment and concern regarding the preservation of historical properties in the Borough. It is a cause you and I both share a passion about. The proposed conceptual revitalization plan does not include any historical properties, as none of the buildings in the downtown business district are "historical" by definition. The Victorian charm of the neighborhoods that surround the business district will hopefully only be embellished as a result of a revitalization effort in our downtown, as owners realize increased property values and a desire to maintain and/or improve the historic features of the properties we have all come to appreciate at a high level. Thank you.