PHOENIXVILLE -- Vic Barr is a Schuylkill Township resident, and knows Phoenixville well.

By G.E. LAWRENCE

PHOENIXVILLE -- Vic Barr is a Schuylkill Township resident, and knows Phoenixville well.

But Barr has spent his professional career in other towns, other places. The nationally-recognized principal of VLBJR Architects holds credentials as an architect and planner, and holds special interest and experience in towns up and down the East Coast facing issues of their own revitalization.

"What I've found in all of the communities in which I've worked, from Boston to Richmond," he said, "is that there's a clear process. First, there's the stabilization of existing retail in an amenity-rich environment. Then there's the development of a critical mass of housing with a walking relationship to retail. Then an office component works, without generating commuter problems," Barr said.

"In a 'live, work and play' community, all aspects are working in synergy."

Barr, that is to say, has a theory that fits together

big categorical pieces of the revitalization puzzle. Note the chronology: retail uses take root, attract interest in housing just a walkable distance away; provision of housing attracts interest of commercial markets in locating offices just a walkable distance from both.

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By that theory, too, the retail boom in downtown Phoenixville defines not the end-product of forty years of Borough-wide revitalization plans but a single first step in a process -- with a great deal more to come, a great deal more to be done.

And more is underway. The jigsaw puzzle pieces of downtown retail leasing will continue to be fit together to reach Barr's "stability," but fresh attention is now being given to housing and to commercial office development.

Among the specific project pieces now in various stages of proposal and development:

The Foundry, the adaptive reuse -- for special events and catering services -- of the last remaining, carefully-preserved Phoenix Steel building, on the edge of the company's site. The facility is scheduled for formal opening by The Hankin Group by November 21.

Two and Three Bridge Plaza, some 80,000 square feet of office space under development by The 3D Group, joining and complementing One, which was in 2005 the first new large-scale office construction in Phoenixville in decades.

The Barto site, a mixed-use retail-residential street-side development along the 500 block of Bridge Street, with two 14-story mixed-use residential-commercial towers tucked behind. Zoning changes to accommodate the proposal are under current discussion by the Borough Planning Commission.

A third elderly housing facility, proposed by Brandywine Financial to complete the planned cluster of which French Creek Manor and Episcopal House were the first two elements, on the western end of the steel site. On Tuesday, Borough Council approved changes to earlier agreements surrounding this third building to pave the way for a new submission from Brandywine.

Franklin Commons, an adaptive reuse of 225,000 square feet of a formerly derelict industrial North Side site, for offices, classrooms and program facilities, principally for educational uses, from pre-school to graduate school. An opening celebration is being held there today.

The Green Line, a proposed commuter rail link between Phoenixville and Paoli, in feasibility study stages -- but planned for (no pun intended) fast-track development.

A minor-league baseball stadium, proposed for Phoenixville in competition with other Chester County communities. A next meeting of the coordinating Chester County Stadium Project Task Force is scheduled for October.

The Steel Site, long a focus of local dreams and local ire, a 120-acre hole in the heart of the Borough's downtown, has promise of new life.

The Borough's Master Plan for the site and special enabling zoning regulations, enacted in 2001 but tangled in litigation since 2006 over the Borough's rejection of plans proposed for two parcels by site owner Phoenix Property Group, have been extended now by Council for application to the site by Council for fifteen years.

And PPG, still property owner of record, is expected to go to settlement by December on the transfer of all of its remaining holdings there to its new equitable owner, Brandywine Financial. All, that is, but one parcel, the contentious Parcel Q, which has already reverted by default to Republic First Bank.

Brandywine has brought fresh hope to the site's development. "They've been working carefully with us," said Main Street-Community Development Corporation director Barry Cassidy. On the Green Line. On the stadium. On elderly housing.

But what the Master Plan defines for the lion's share of the site is offices, that third element Barr would seek in the revitalization puzzle. In its original form, the Plan called for upwards of 800,000 square feet of office space.

Is the market there to support such expansive development?

3D's Manny DeMutis is certain that it is. One Bridge Plaza's office space is fully leased. Portions of Two Bridge Plaza and of the proposed Barto site development have already been pre-leased, he says. And he noted that Franklin Commons leased up in just over a year.

"The market is there. The only way to capture it is to build," he said.

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