Bucks County Herald

Quakertown transformation

Free Press Building gets a serious facelift

JOE FERRY



Former Free Press publisher Charles Meredith, left, his wife, Betsy, and Quakertown Councilman Jim Roberts strike up a conversation.

With its towering white columns, the facade of Quakertown’s iconic Free Press Building on Broad Street hasn’t changed much since the columns were erected in 1922.

Inside, however, it’s a much different story.

After a nearly 10-month, $1 million renovation, the building where for decades pressmen cranked out copies of the daily newspaper and reporters wrote their stories on manual typewriters has been transformed into sleek office space.

Its 11,000 square feet are carved into 21 offices on the first two floors and a sprawling three-bedroom apartment on the third floor.

Single offices range from 150 square feet to about 900 square feet and can be combined to create larger spaces.

Fourteen offices have already been leased and the apartment is under contract, said developer Mike Cygan, with inquiries coming in almost daily. Tenants include Quakertown Alive!, Kinertia Web Development and Heritage Estate Properties.

“No one who has come in to look at it hasn’t signed a lease,” said Cygan. “Once we show it, we have great success.”

Originally built in 1869 by the Order of the Sons of Herman, a German fraternal organization, to house its activities, the building has served a number of purposes over the last century and a half, including serving as the headquarters of Quakertown National Bank and the daily newspaper for which it is named.

Broad Street Preservationists LLP, a partnership that includes Cygan, Kenton Bauder and Dan Soliday, bought the building in 2008 after the paper ceased publication and continued to lease space to several tenants before embarking on the ambitious renovations.

“Our biggest challenge,” said Cygan, “was trying to make it as modern as possible while maintaining many of the historical aspects.”

With Allentown architect Charles T. Reichl and historic consultant Kathryn Ann Auerbach lending a hand, the developers were able to incorporate many of the building’s quirky features – cathedral ceilings and oversized windows and skylights, for example – into the design. They even managed to salvage the warehouse’s original oak floors, complete with grease and ink stains from its previous life.

Various artifacts from the building’s rich history have been preserved and placed in strategic locations to create a connection with the past. At the same time, glass-walled offices, a shared kitchen and conference room, individual heating and cooling controls and high-speed internet provide modern amenities required by tenants.

“The space is so exciting,” said Auerbach. “You walk in and feel the energy right away.”

During a recent open house, visitors and tenants alike marveled at the building’s remarkable transformation. Attorney Wendy Ashby said she brought her elder law practice to the building in December, leasing four offices for seven employees.

Although her office was only about a block away on Broad Street, Ashby said she never thought of the Free Press Building as a viable option while looking for new space over the last few years.

But the renovation changed her mind.

“It’s perfect,” she said. “Our clients love it. Everything is so accessible.”

Cygan said the building renovation is another key piece of the borough’s downtown revitalization efforts.

“If the goal of redevelopment is to have a mix of businesses and residents and retail, it fits in very well with what is happening in Quakertown,” Cygan said. “The offices will bring new people to the downtown.”

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