Twenty years in the making, the transformation of Doylestown’s Broad Street corridor has begun

A once sprawling maintenance yard–dotted with heavy equipment, road salt storage sheds, and snow plows–is undergoing a transformation that will bring a dramatic change to the landscape along North Broad Street in Doylestown Borough.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) facility’s neighbor, a New Deal-era building that was home to its maintenance offices and garage, is also undergoing a significant facelift and new use.

The long-awaited plan to create a “gateway park” at the intersection of North Broad and Doyle Streets on the edge of the historic Borough and repurpose the adjacent building into the community’s municipal and police complex, has begun.

Twenty years in the making, the path to this highly anticipated project began in 2000, when Heritage Conservancy learned PennDOT planned to relocate, leaving the desirable property available once the transportation agency moved out.

“We thought it was a great opportunity to step in and acquire it,” said Jeffrey Marshall, President of Heritage Conservancy.  “Our goal was to preserve open space for an urban park and find a long-term tenant for the building.”

The deal, said Marshall, “was all predicated on PennDOT moving to a new location, which, at the time, we thought would be a few years.”

But, the road ahead turned out to be far more complicated and, although Heritage Conservancy signed an agreement of sale with the state early in 2001, PennDOT did not fully leave the borough for its new Plumstead Township property until recently.

Now, the Conservancy’s goal has been realized. On February 13th, the Doylestown-based land conservation and historic preservation organization closed on the property, paying $875,000 for both parcels, totaling approximately 6 ½-acres.

Today, the vision Heritage Conservancy long- shared with Doylestown Borough is moving forward. The borough has signed a 99-year lease with the Conservancy and is developing plans for the 3 ½-acre passive park area and the nearly 3-acre lot that holds the building. Doylestown paid the Conservancy $900,000 for the leased property and will make four annual payments of $150,000 to fulfill its agreement, said Phil Ehlinger, Doylestown’s deputy manager.

“Our goals are very much aligned,” noted Marshall, of the Conservancy’s relationship with the Borough. “This public-private partnership contributes to both aspects of our mission, preserving the building and protecting open space.”

Several years ago, Ehlinger said, the Borough had done a study to determine the best site for the newly created Central Bucks Regional Police Department and determined the now- former PennDOT property to be “ranked the highest.”

Over the next two years, the Borough will completely remodel the building to create a 16,800-square-foot Borough Hall and a 13,400-square-foot police department. That is approximately five times larger than the Borough’s current facilities on West Court Street, said Borough Manager, John Davis.

Heritage Conservancy will assist the Borough in applying for a grant with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission to determine the building’s historical significance. The structure was built under the Works Progress Administration program of the 1930s, when the federal government employed millions of (mostly) men in need of work during the Great Depression.

Last year, the Borough received a $1.5 million grant from Pennsylvania’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program to assist with the acquisition and redevelopment of the property.

At the time, Doylestown Mayor Ron Strouse applauded the ambitious project, saying, “it will turn a brownfield into parkland for the enjoyment of all,” while also providing much-needed improvements for the borough’s administrative offices and regional police headquarters.

Marshall agrees. “The Broad Street Gateway is important to the entire community.” The Conservancy, he added, is committed to protecting green space that is not solely large tracts of land, but also smaller  open spaces. “Everyone deserves walkable green areas,” said the Conservancy President, noting that he anticipates more public-private partnerships in the future.

The Borough’s Public Works Department, under Ehlinger’s leadership, has begun clearing the park section, where 18 inches of topsoil will be added. The deputy manager noted that the Borough will both lead the design and implementation of the park plan. Interior work has also begun on the new municipal center.

“The Borough is excited to get started on the project,” said Ehlinger. “We have an excellent partnership with Heritage Conservancy and look forward to this adaptive reuse and rehabilitation of a 90-year-old historic building and creating a beautiful park.”

Both men thanked all the people and agencies that have worked for two decades to make the project possible.