From “best kept secret” to “America’s Hometown”

JOE FERRY


This apartment building at 7th and Arch streets recently was featured during the Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce’s Architectural Walking Tour. It is among approximately 50 buildings in the borough designed by Milton Bean during the late 19th century. Distinctive Bean details include unique brick-work design (colors and patterns), unusual angles, towers, turrets and spires, plus molding work.

Located far away from major highways such as Route 309 and Route 313, Perkasie Borough often has been referred to as “the best kept secret in Bucks County.”

Despite its sprawling park system, quaint Victorian architecture, the country’s oldest community Christmas tree lighting ceremony, and a historic carousel, Perkasie maintained a low profile for many years.

But it might not be that way much longer.

Four years into an ambitious economic development plan, the borough is a hotbed of residential and commercial activity. More than 300 housing units are planned over the next three to five years, generating approximately $100 million in construction costs. Restaurants and retail shops – think candy and shoes and jewelry – are under consideration.

The “best kept secret” is quickly becoming America’s hometown.

“It’s a very exciting time for the residents as well as the businesses in Perkasie; it’s great to see this type of investment in our community,” said Borough Councilman Matt Aigeldinger.

Once a thriving hub of manufacturing – cigars and baseballs and recreation – Menlo Park included a roller coaster, skating rink, and other amenities that made it an attraction for Philadelphians during the summer during the first half of the 20th century, Perkasie fell victim to two tragedies: an ill-advised urban renewal project in the 1960s and a fire in 1988. In both cases, a vibrant downtown was left devastated.

For more than 25 years, the borough languished.

But Perkasie’s rebirth began in 2012 when a public-private partnership spearheaded by the Perkasie Olde Towne Association decided the time was right to launch an economic development program. With funding by the borough and local businesses, they hired consultant Stephen Barth to lead the way.

At the same time, a forward-thinking borough council cut permit and review fees by half to spark development interest, and a grant from the state to update the borough’s comprehensive plan provided a blueprint for smart, reasonable growth.

“We are looking to create two business cycles,” said Barth, “so that with a small, walkable downtown, it could have activity during the day and more nightlife with the addition of restaurants and specialty stores.”

The first tangible evidence of the economic development plan emerged last year with construction for the America House at Perkasie and the Perkasie Commercial Center, two separate three-story, mixed-use developments with a total of 30,000 square feet at 7th and Market, on a lot that sat empty after the fire. All 16 luxury apartments in the complex were leased quickly.

The commercial space has been slower to fill but the first tenant, a specialty pet shop, is expected to open in December. Borough officials are confident the rest of the space will be leased quickly.

“There is a place for every kind of use here in Perkasie,” said Borough Manager Andrea Coaxum. “A lot of development stems from the borough being proactive, working with developers in advance, getting all the key departments in the room.”

A stroll through the borough’s downtown reveals an eclectic mix of shops, from the Chimayo Art Gallery and Frox, an upscale women’s boutique along 7th Street, to the Bread Box and Bakery, which features artisanal goodies, Perkasie Pizza and Pasta, and C&C Cafe on Market Street.

The Walnut Street corridor has a hip, funky vibe with Modern Male Barber Shop, the Black Cat Collective (a tattoo and piercing shop), Bucks County Soapstone, and Maize, a farm-to-table restaurant that attracts patrons from Philadelphia and New York.

But not all the attractions are confined to the downtown.

On the south side of town, The Perk restaurant and Free Will Brewing Co. draw loyal patrons. In the Constitution Square shopping center, Pomodorino, an Italian restaurant, opened less than a year ago and has earned a solid reputation.

More development could be right around the corner. Restaurateur Joe Wade is planning to open in a former apartment building next to Borough Hall on Chestnut Street next spring. Developers are also eyeing the former Delbar property and the former SEPTA train station.

Meanwhile, the owners of Pennridge Airport are planning a major development that includes office and warehouse space, a small hotel and conference center, and a brew pub. The goal is to enhance its appeal to regional companies wanting to make use of the largest private runway between Philadelphia and Allentown.

Perkasie also features a number of popular events, including a Farmers Market that runs from June through October, a summer car show that draws thousands, and the Fall Festival.

But its biggest annual attraction is the tree lighting, scheduled for Dec. 3 this year, which has been held every year since 1909, longer than any other place in the country.

“The goal is to maintain the borough’s small-town charm while at the same time providing residents and visitors with the products and services they need and want,” said Barth. “I think we’re headed in the right direction.”



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