New businesses, new jobs, a new train station, and possibly new homes could be on their way to the Borough of Downingtown.
For the last six years, the borough has been working with ideas on how to develop the Amtrak repair yard located behind the existing Septa and Amtrak Rail lines. Because the property is owned by Amtrak currently, it cannot be taxed until 2012, which doesn't help the borough generate tax revenue.
"A real asset of Downingtown is the R-5 and rail station," said Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) Committee Chairman, David Davis. "If we improved the station and made it a regional center, could we pull people in to use transportation? Could we bring development that would be commercial and employees could ride the train in?"
According to Davis, Amtrak and the Chester County Development Council are working together to sell the land to a private developer who would develop the land.
"The borough says you can develop it both residential and commercial," said Davis. "The key ideas of the KOZ site are to produce jobs. If you produce all residential, where would you produce jobs?"
One of the proposals the KOZ committee made to the borough was a way to improve access to the station.
"We would add a road across from Boot Road, come across the Brandywine, through the field (at Johnsontown Park) to the station," said Davis. "If we have a major transportation route, instead of bypassing, keep traffic, improve the flow and have the traffic use the shops and services in Downingtown."
Part of adding the road across from Boot Road will require cooperation with the group that purchased the Sonoco site, Purcharon Group, as some of the road will go through the Sonoco site.
"Our plan always was to develop a road," said Davis.
The combination of the KOZ and Sonoco sites gives the borough approximately 115 acres of undeveloped land.
"I don't know of any other site in the Commonwealth that has this much within a borough that is so close to an R-5 or Amtrak line," said Davis. "Borough council and the developer are going to have some interesting conversations. They have a tough job of figuring out if they can bring all three things (residential, commercial retail, and commercial jobs) into the borough."
According to Davis, the idea behind the KOZ development project is to produce a tax base for the borough. Also, as part of the plan, the developer who purchases the KOZ site is going to be asked to build a train station.
"If they build a commercial building, they can give us space on the track level, as a station," Davis said. "The borough would be trying to encourage developers to build residential, commercial retail and commercial jobs."
The borough is also in discussions with the county and state to get state funding for the bridge over the Brandywine and for a new, up-to-date pedestrian tunnel.
"You have a major piece of transportation infrastructure," said Davis. "Septa has seen rider ship increase 10 percent since the gas prices have risen. We want to triple the existing parking with an undercover."
By adding commercial retail, and also by creating jobs with this proposed site development would draw people to Downingtown, says Davis.
According to Davis there are already nearly a dozen developers interested in developing the KOZ site.
"Once you get developers involved, you're talking months, not years," said Davis "I think that as this plays out over the next year there are going to be some fascinating discussions."
With the addition of commercial lots, it will not only save the borough in providing services, it will also keep residents taxes from rising dramatically.
"It's a wonderful time and people shouldn't be afraid of change," said Davis. "If I was a resident, my taxes aren't going to go through the roof. If they do this right, my taxes won't go up."
According to Davis, for every dollar in tax revenue, it costs the municipality $1.30 to deliver services to residential areas, compared to $0.70 to commercial.
"This plan calls for putting density in borough," said Davis. "We don't want to develop land in a borough like its suburban. I've always felt that towns are vibrant places to live."