Sunday, July 27, 2008

Why not Phoenixville? A little Hollywood coming to Chester Township

Phoenixville's improved downtown district provides the residents and visitors with some great restaurants and interesting shops, fun things to do, and picturesque eye candy most everywhere one looks.

Kudos for a positive change!

We need more.

Now, we need substance.

We need to fill the empty acres of the former Phoenix Steel Company with an industry which will bring good paying jobs to Phoenixville while providing an interesting but contiguous pathway between the downtown and the barren Iron company property.

Admittedly with some envy, I watched a report by Lisa Thomas Laurey from Channel 6 ABC news this morning on a proposed $90 million dollar production studio to be located on the Sun Oil property in Chester township.

According to the article I've posted below, "The 370,000 square-foot Sun Center plan calls for the construction of five studios, seven soundstage studios, a 4-D movie theater, interactive museum, and a landing pad to accommodate the helicopters of the beautiful people.

Rotwitt claims the Concord Road development could bring as many as 1,000 permanent and 300 construction jobs to the county."

All this on 33 acres.

Imagine what a production studio would do for Phoenixville.

Imagine using the French Creek waterway developed in the manner of the San Antonio Riverwalk as I described and suggested years ago, as a beautiful transition area between the downtown and a redeveloped, exciting steel site.

Reproduced here from an earlier post to this blog referencing a letter to the Phoenix:

Years ago, I mentioned Riverwalk, San Antonio, Texas on Council floor, and I believe this is the perfect time to revisit the idea. I'm hoping everyone who is interested will do an internet search on the extraordianary development of Riverwalk, in Texas, and learn more.

I've provided one internet link, so please keep in mind as you view this, the French Creek which runs through the property. What I'm thinking of would not, of course, be the size or scope of the San Antonio waterway, but scaled to fit the property.

Imagine, if you will, instead of office buildings and even more townhomes, a lively and lovely setting for small businesses along the creek, jazz or blues festivals, boat rides, seasonal events, creek-side cafes with outdoor seating, well landscaped greenery, perhaps a small waterfall, twinkle lights in the shrubbery. Picture families enjoying shopping, strolling the waterway, or having a meal under the lights from overhead trees with their twinkling mirror images reflecting in a warm glow from the gently bubbling water.

If you can see what I see, wouldn't this be a beautiful alternative to rather mundane usage for the property?

Think of all the individual businesses that such a project would entice to the area. The steel site WOULD become the jewel of northern Chester County.

With access to the Schuylkill River, and a trail coming from the east, the Melchiorre park area and the shopping center would be the western border, resulting in a completely contiguous, new area for development along the creek, and a wonderful compliment to the main downtown area.

Rather than continuing to be a division between the north and south sides of the borough, French Creek would truly be a celebratory destination center for the heart of our town.

It's not too late for a different approach to the former steel site redevelopment.

We, as a community, have one chance to redevelop this parcel of ground, why not make it something we can all appreciate, enjoy, and get really excited about??

* End letter

Phoenixville may have missed an opportunity to attract the developer of this particular production studio to our community, but the reading I have done on Hollywood's primary industry indicates a desire and perhaps a need to find more available acreage in this area for additional studios.

We have what they need!

Now is the time for the borough, the CDC, and interested individuals to scour the articles regarding Chester township's apparently successful bid for a production studio, garner all the information regarding the principal players and follow the leads to attract an industry of this nature to our hometown.

Just imagine a little bit of Hollywood coming to Phoenixville.



A little Hollywood coming to Chester Township

By Tim Logue ,

CHESTER TOWNSHIP - The odds of a $90 million movie production studio sprouting up on the former Sun Center property have improved dramatically thanks to massive tax breaks approved by Chester Upland Empowerment Board.

"I think this agreement shows that if you engage us, we'll listen and we're not anathema to all development deals," said board Chairman Marc Woolley. "Simply put, the developer of the project came to the table and listened, which is something that hasn't always been done.

"They have expressed an interest in our kids, so we have expressed an interest in their project."

Philadelphia attorney Jeffrey Rotwitt has spent the better part of a year pitching his grand plan with partner Pacifica Ventures of Santa Monica, Calif.

On Wednesday night, the empowerment board approved a tax-increment financing (TIF) program that will allow Rotwitt and Pacifica to pay 50 cents on the dollar in real estate taxes for 20 years on the future assessed value of the 33-acre property on Concord Road that is now home to the Tri-State Sports complex.

"We are very grateful to the school district, the county and the township," said Rotwitt, who purchased the former recreational center for Sun Oil employees in 1999 with a few partners, including Kevin Flynn, one of the principals in the Harrah's Chester development. "We are moving forward in a positive direction and, with county support, we are still optimistic about breaking ground this fall."

The state has already kicked in $10 million and Delaware County Council and Chester Township Council have been champing at the bit to approve tax breaks and get a shovel in the ground.

"We've been waiting on this since September," said Chester Township Councilman Robert May, adding that the land development plan is nearly completed and could be approved in a matter of weeks. "If the county can get it done between now and the seventh of August, which is our next meeting, it's possible we could be issuing permits by the end of the month."

County council's next scheduled meeting is August 5.

The 370,000 square-foot Sun Center plan calls for the construction of five studios, seven soundstage studios, a 4-D movie theater, interactive museum, and a landing pad to accommodate the helicopters of the beautiful people.

Rotwitt claims the Concord Road development could bring as many as 1,000 permanent and 300 construction jobs to the county.

Delaware County Commerce Director Patrick Killian said the Sun Center project would be the first in the county under a TIF program, which allows the taxing authorities - in this case, Chester Upland, Delaware County and Chester Township - to continue to collect taxes based on the pre-development value of the land.

But instead of collecting higher taxes as the value of the property increases, Killian said a TIF permits a developer to retire their debt in lieu of making tax payments on the developed portion of the property.

After 20 years, taxes are once again collected based on the full value of the property.

When Rotwitt first approached the school district looking for total tax abatement, Woolley objected, saying the district would no longer rubber stamp development deals that did not benefit the district.

"In the end, I think they came to appreciate the merits of the project," Rotwitt said.

While Woolley said that's true, it was an additional carrot - Rotwitt's promise of a $1 million payment to the district by the end of 2009 - that sealed the deal.

"It's an up-front payment we can reprogram directly into the schools and directly into the partnership programs we're trying to proliferate across the district," Woolley said. "There's never been a development deal like this for the district, though I know of another one that pays $11.2 million to the city, $10 million to the county and nothing to us."

Woolley was referring to the school district being left out of the profit-sharing agreement with Harrah's Chester Racetrack and Casino.

According to Rotwitt, the first phase of construction would take approximately five months to finish and the whole project could be completed within a year.
He said executives from Paramount have already visited the Sun Center property "at least a half dozen times" and confirmed "Sixth Sense" director M. Night Shyamalan is interested in shooting his next film in Chester Township.

Rotwitt said the studio would also draw students and tourists to Delaware County. "We think it will be a cross between the Franklin Institute and Disney," he said. "It will be a great resource for class trips and teaching people how movies are made.

"We are also introducing a whole new spectrum of job opportunities for kids from Chester or the Main Line that are not normally on the radar screen."

Local filmmaker Tim Chambers said a Philadelphia-area studio is a perfect complement to the tax credits approved by the state legislature.

"It's the final piece of the puzzle," said Chambers, the director of "Our Lady of Victory," the film about the improbable title run of the Immaculata women's basketball team. "It gives the Philadelphia region and Pennsylvania the proper infrastructure to compete with other states and it's close enough to pull actors, actresses and other union labor from New York."


Anonymous said...

Make it Happen! Get out there and get your hands dirty (figuratively). We need some people to take action.

Anonymous said...

Both Pottstown and Norristown are putting in very similar studios -- while I agree that we desperately need industry/offices that will provide a full-time living wage for residents, I'm not sure the Hollywood bandwagon is the one to jump onto.

Anonymous said...

Great Idea Karen ! What a vision for our community. Sure would beat the plans of conflicting ideas council seems to be railroading on the town.

I think the messages are inconsistent with council on revitalization. One month they want to encourage rebirth and fixing up the Main Street and surrounding areas and the next they are allowing developers to destroy the CDC's hard work with HUD on prime corners.

What you envision with the riverwalk is what longterm planning should be doing if there is such a committee...

Anonymous said...

I just can't see Council going for the HUD project. Why was all this positive energy invested into the downtown just to have a HUD building as its gateway? it doesn't make sense.
This is a little off topic, but if the Planning Commission can put so much time and energy into modifying their ordinances to fit this plan, it should't be too hard to put a pool in my little back yard or a 20 foot fence around my property. If they jump hoops for this project they have to jump hoops for everyone. Whats fair is fair. I don't get whats going on.

Ed Jones said...

Instead of Hollywood/Movies/TV studios which already are being built or considered in neighboring communities, how about getting involved with the UNISYS move?

Since they want a building with their name on it and Philadelphia is fighting it - let's invite them to move their headquarters to Phoenixville.

Not far from Paoli and Great Valley where that have had and still have a presence.

Anonymous said...

Hey, now that Starbucks ain't coming how about using the Fountain Inn for Unisys' headquarters?

It's a busy intersection. Letting put up a red sign on the building will give them plenty of visibility.