When Bucks County Commissioner Robert G. Loughery first drove onto McPherson Street in Bristol Township more than two decades ago, he admittedly had no idea where he was. The area was far from a bustling business district and the properties, especially the building at 6401, were in desperate need of new life.
The year was 1997, and the township had just been included in the Redevelopment Authority of the County of Bucks’ Enterprise Program, which addresses and works to restore deteriorated, distressed and blighted industrial and manufacturing areas. As the “enterprise coordinator,” Loughery was asked by former Redevelopment Authority executive director Bob White to interview business owners about improvements they wanted to see.
Currently, thanks to the joint efforts of the Redevelopment Authority, Bristol Township and elected officials, the former vacant, brownfield site at 6401 McPherson St. is completely revitalized and home to two companies – Keen Compressed Gas Co., a leading supplier of welding equipment, and Home Healthworks Inc., which offers home medical and respiratory equipment.
On Thursday, Aug. 22, individuals who had a hand in the building’s redevelopment convened inside Keen Compressed Gas Co. for a commemorative ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Returning to his old stomping grounds was Loughery, who quoted George Peppard’s The A-Team character, Col. John “Hannibal” Smith.
“I love it when a plan comes together,” Loughery said. “This, to me, was what the enterprise zone was all about – smaller businesses, older properties that needed a new injection of life, a renewal of sorts, a redevelopment.”
From 1988 through 2011, the approximately 1.15-acre property was utilized for the manufacture of printed and etched circuit boards for the electronics industry. In 2011, the company went out of business and vacated the property. Uncertainties surrounding environmental conditions, coupled with substantial liens on the property, made redevelopment a significant challenge. Consequently, the property sat vacant and in a deteriorating condition for many years.
According to Jeff Darwak, executive director of the Redevelopment Authority, the building’s rejuvenation was made possible by a slew of factors. First was the implementation of Pennsylvania’s Land Recycling Program, commonly referred to as “Act 2,” which encourages the voluntary cleanup and reuse of contaminated commercial and industrial sites through breaking down redevelopment obstacles. This is done by providing uniform cleanup standards, liability relief, standardized reviews and financial assistance.
Next was the designation of the property as an “enterprise zone” in 1997 and its redesignation in 2010. Finally, in 2015, the County Commissioners and Bristol Township Council proved the area and span of Route 13 to be a “certified redevelopment area.” State grants were obtained by the Redevelopment Authority through the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s Industrial Sites Reuse Program.
“That designation is meant to focus public resources to areas that have been disinvested over time,” Darwak said.
All of this set the stage for the Redevelopment Authority to condemn the property in 2017 and give it a complete overhaul.
“One hundred dumpster loads of trash came out of this place,” White reflected. “The whole roof had to be replaced.”
Bryan Keen, current president and third generation owner of Keen Compressed Gas Co., said he’s thrilled to have his family business celebrate its 100th anniversary with a new location in Bucks County, which he sees as extremely tight-knit.
“That’s what we want to be 20 to 30 years from now. We want to be well-known and involved in the community. We want to be part of the process. We want to support the little leagues, we want to support the schools, we want to support the charities,” he said.
Keen already has plans to put additional money into the property, host welding students from Bucks County Technical High School and hire locally, which is another mission of Act 2 – to stimulate economic growth in target areas.
Sean Schafer, chairman of the Redevelopment Authority, took a moment to thank Sen. Tommy Tomlinson, Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, Rep. Tina Davis, the County Commissioners, Bristol Township Council and other elected officials for their support over the years.
“This is a great project. This really shows what the Redevelopment Authority can do when all of the local entities are working together and try to turn something that was a hazardous site into what’s now taxables and ratables for Bristol Township.”
Present on behalf of the council was president Craig Bowen and councilman Patrick Antonello. Both reminisced on the messy roads and unfriendly business environment that plagued the township just a few years ago.
“We have worked our butts off to change the perception of Bristol Township, and it’s finally coming to fruition,” said Antonello. “We don’t want to be aging. We want a mixed community here. We want businesses, we want families, and we want to see the quality of life continue to improve here.”
The event concluded with a ceremonial ribbon cutting, followed by refreshments compliments of Calm Waters Coffee and Angelina’s Bakery in Bristol Borough. ••
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com