Developers survey business and commercial areas along Route 1

Photo by Chris Barber Herr Foods President J.M. Herr, center, addresses investors and real estate agents at the end of the Route 1 corridor tour last Thursday at the Herr Foods Visitors Center.

The Southern Chester County Economic Development Council tour of southern Chester County last week was more than a casual ride through attractive, rural scenery. The council, backed by county commissioners, has embarked on an initiative to develop the Route 1 corridor from Kennett Square to West Nottingham for commercial and industrial growth, and they wanted people to see it.

On Thursday, about 40 real estate agents, investors and bankers climbed aboard a Krapf bus and surveyed some of the 3 million square feet of land ripe for development, excluding a number of planned, large retail projects.

The corridor is bounded by Route 1 on the north and the East Penn Railroad on the south. Between those two boundaries lies Baltimore Pike.

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The leaders on the tour were Economic Development Council adviser Bob Grabus and Newmark Grub Knight Frank real estate director Erick Stretch. Economic Development Council Director of Business Development Mary Frances McGarrity also offered information along the way on various programs entrepreneurs could participate in to borrow money at low rates or qualify for special discounts for their projects.

The trip kicked off at the Hilton Garden Inn in East Marlborough Township. Chester County Commissioner Terence Farrell greeted the group, stressing the benefits of living and working in Chester County. He said the initiative to develop commercially along the corridor started about 20 months ago.

Grabus echoed Farrell’s optimism.

“The land is a strong potential area for commercial and retail development,” Grabus said.

Grabus added that the area covers 12 municipalities. He said it is ripe for businesses and jobs, and housing for people who will staff them.

The bus made 14 stops along the way, starting with the Exelon plant along Baltimore Pike. There, beside the busy power company office building, are two sites of 100,000 and 80,000 square feet with water, sewer and electric ready for anyone who is interested in developing it.

For the next two hours the bus made its way southward, skimming past vast fields and acreage – some with and others without infrastructure ready to suit.

As storms loomed and an intense downpour hit, there were few opportunities for the riders to disembark, but the bus did stop long enough at each site for Grabus and Stretch to describe what was in view.

During the stop at the NVF site and future Kennett Business Park South Mill Road in Kennett Square, Grabus pointed to the East Penn Railroad tracks that bounded the property, saying the owner was easy to work with and the route provided a great opportunity for hauling materials to future businesses.

Property owner Mike Pia Jr. also talked about the current housing project -- Magnolia Place -- that will include 79 townhouses and 33 apartments. Also in the plans are the potential for retail, commercial and restaurant buildings.

The tour ended at the Herr Foods Visitors Center, where participants were given lunch and company president J.M. Herr talked about the development opportunities in Nottingham.

“We like it here, and a growing number of people are hearing about it,” Herr said. “We like the rural nature here. It’s pretty good for us. We’re near Route 1 and Route 95, and we have a piece of property.”

Herr added that the company also has plans to develop the village of Nottingham by redoing its hotel and restoring the larger restaurant.

Each of the participants received a booklet containing information on all the sites. At the end of the book, there were letters of welcome to developers from Kennett Township, London Grove Township, Penn Township and West Nottingham Township.

Grabus said many of the municipalities along the corridor are eager to participate in commercial growth, with the exception of Upper Oxford, where supervisors have chosen to keep their land rural.

The tour made stops at the following sites, where Grabus and Stretch said space was available for business initiatives and growth:

100 Exelon Way, Kennett Square.

200 and 203 Gale Lane, East Marlborough

Kennett Business Park in Kennett Township

NVF in Kennett Square

Route 1 and Newark Road in New Garden Township

New Garden Flying Field

London Grove West

Route 796 Industrial Park and Herr Industrial Park in East Nottingham

Limestone Road in Lower Oxford near the new Walmart.