For­mer Acme store crum­bles into his­tory

The Advance of Bucks County - - FRONT PAGE - By Jeff Werner

NEW­TOWN – A heavy metal wreck­ing ball sym­bol­i­cally struck the side of the for­mer Acme store on Sy­camore Street Satur­day morn­ing send­ing a wave of ex­cite­ment rip­pling through a crowd num­ber­ing more than 500 peo­ple.

The ex­cite­ment turned to a loud cheer as New­town Town­ship Su­per­vi­sor Mike Gal­lagher, work­ing the con­trols of the de­mo­li­tion equip­ment, sent the wreck­ing ball slam­ming into the build­ing a sec­ond time, this time bash­ing a hole into the cin­der block wall.

Mo­ments af­ter the sym­bolic strike, the real wreck­ing crew from DeNucci Ex­ca­vat­ing moved into place with a de­mo­li­tion ex­ca­va­tor and be­gan rip­ping down the build­ing. Twisted beams of metal crashed to the ground send­ing clouds of dust drift­ing through the early fall air.

“Clean up in aisle four,”some­one shouted jok­ingly as peo­ple, many of them wear­ing plas­tic yel­low com­mem­o­ra­tive hard hats, stood be­hind a pro­tec­tive fence, cap­tur­ing the mo­ment with pho­to­graphs and video.

A group of for­mer store em­ploy­ees watched as the once thriv­ing neigh­bor­hood store where they spent years work­ing dis­ap­peared from the land­scape and into the pages of New­town his­tory.

Among them was Lisa Sch­lechter, who worked at the store for 22 years be­fore mov­ing to the new Acme store in the New­town Shop­ping Cen­ter.

“It’s a bit­ter­sweet feel­ing. We’re see­ing a lot of mem­o­ries go away,” said Sch­lechter.

“This was an icon in New­town for many years,” she said, “and we have a lot of mem­o­ries. A lot of us be­came re­ally close friends here. It’s like a sec­ond fam­ily. It was a lit­tle neigh­bor­hood store. Ev­ery­body knew ev­ery­body. But it was time for it to go,” she said.

The de­mo­li­tion will make way for The Prom­e­nade, a two build­ing mixed use re­tail and lux­ury apart­ment rede­vel­op­ment project that prom­ises to breathe new life into WhH 6yFDPRUH 6WUHHW FRUULGRU DnG WR IuO­fiOO the vi­sion of a pedes­trian-friendly down­town street.

“I apol­o­gize it took this long,” the project’s manag­ing part­ner, Jim Wor­thing­ton, told the crowd. “You guys have been great. The town­ship has been phe­nom­e­nal. They’ve done ev­ery­thing they could to get this thing go­ing. And I’m happy as heck to be able to knock it down. I’m tired of look­ing at it. I’m sure you’re tired of look­ing at it.”

Wor­thing­ton an­tic­i­pates break­ing ground on The Prom­e­nade next spring with com­ple­tion sched­uled for around this time next year. It will in­clude two free-stand­ing build­ings, a one story re­tail struc­ture next to the His­toric Pres­by­te­rian Church at the south end of the prop­erty and a larger, three story struc­ture on the north side with side­walk re­tail and 26 lux­ury apart­ments on the VHFRnG DnG WhLUG flRRUV.

“This build­ing (the for­mer Acme) has served this community for so long and so well, but it’s about time,” said U.S. Con­gress­man Mike Fitz­patrick, who was DPRnJ WhH SuEOLF RI­fiFLDOV DnG EuVLnHVV lead­ers who were in­vited to speak at the De­mo­li­tion Party thrown by Wor­thing­ton.

“Good things come to those who wait and this community has waited a long time and a very good thing is about to hap­pen,” he said. “They call it genWUL­fiFDWLRn DnG FRPPunLWy plan­ning. It means they’re go­ing to take some­thing old and make it new again. And no community de­serves that more than Sy­camore Street, New­town and Bucks County. We’re look­ing for­ward to great things here.”

Ges­tur­ing to­ward the di­lap­i­dated build­ing nearby, State Rep. Steve San­tar­siero joked with the crowd. “What’s the big deal? You guys don’t like this? I don’t get it,” he said, to laugh­ter from the gath­er­ing.

“This is a mo­ment to re­flHFW Rn WhH SDVW, EuW DOVR WR think about the good things that are com­ing in the fu- ture,” said San­tar­siero. “Once this is gone and the Prom­e­nade is here it’s re­ally go­ing to make a dif­fer­ence to Sy­camore Street and to the eco­nomic health of our community.”

Shawn Ward, pres­i­dent of the Sy­camore Street As­so­ci­a­tion, de­scribed the mo­ment as “truly his­toric” for New­town Town­ship and for Sy­camore Street and the con­tin­u­a­tion of a long path that be­gan nearly two decades ago with a new vi­sion for the street – a town cen­ter cor­ri­dor that will bring new life and vi­tal­ity to the street.

In 2001, Ward said New­town Town­ship as­sumed the lease of the Acme site when the gro­cery store moved to its present lo­ca­tion in the town­ship. A year and a half later, the town­ship part­nered with the Bucks County Rede­vel­op­ment Author­ity to ac­quire the site for rede­vel­op­ment.

Over the en­su­ing years, nu­mer­ous ideas were put for­ward for the site, in­clud­ing a community cen­ter, a skate park, a pub­lic park­ing garage and at one point the Frost Wat­son Lum­ber­yard con­sid­ered mov­ing to the street.

Af­ter nu­mer­ous meet­ings, Ward said the Acme si­sion­ing Com­mit­tee de­vel­oped a nine point rec­om­men­da­tion plan, in­clud­ing tear­ing down the build­ing, clean­ing up the site, pro­tect­ing the His­toric Pres­by­te­rian Church, cre­at­ing a mixed-use de­vel­op­ment, hav­ing a blend of ar­chi­tec­tural styles typi- cal of the 18th and 19th cen­turies, cre­at­ing a sig­na­ture-type of at­trac­tion and cre­at­ing a streetscape by hav­ing the build­ing moved for­ward to the side­walk.

In 2004, Ward said the com­mit­tee conVLGHUHG fiYH SURSRVDOV IRU WhH GHYHORSPHnW of the prop­erty, in­clud­ing a chain book­store. One of the de­vel­op­ers, he said, even pro­posed build­ing a mini-ice skat­ing rink in front sim­i­lar to Rock­e­feller Cen­ter in New York City.

Shortly af­ter award­ing the site to El­liott Build­ing Group and its pro­posal for The Prom­e­nade, a mixed use re­tail and res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ment, El­liott de­clared bank­ruptcy. That’s when McGrath Homes stepped in and pur­chased the site and con­tin­ued with the plan. Just their luck, said Ward, the econ­omy soured.

“But to­day, we see pa­tience, en­ergy and SHUVLVWHnFH SUHYDLO. TRGDy, wH finDOOy VHH the blem­ish on Sy­camore Street re­moved once and for all,” he said.

“To­day, de­vel­oper Jim Wor­thing­ton and his team present us with a great de­vel­op­ment that pro­tects the His­toric Pres­by­te­rian Church, it gives us a mixed use de­vel­op­ment, it gives us the de­sired ar­chi­tec­tural style we wanted and it will pro­vide us with the sin­gle at­trac­tion in the street front Prom­e­nade,” said Ward.

Speak­ing on be­half of the 250-mem­ber New­town Busi­ness As­so­ci­a­tion, pres­i­dent Mick Petrucci wel­comed the de­mo­li­tion and praised de­vel­oper Jim Wor­thing­ton and his team for mak­ing a dif­fer­ence by rip­ping down an eye­sore and mov­ing for­ward with a plan that will en­hance the town­ship’s busi­ness community.

0LNH GDOODJhHU, whR FhDLUV WhH fiYHmem­ber New­town Town­ship Board of Su­per­vi­sors, said the de­mo­li­tion of the Acme LV WhH fiUVW RI D hDnGIuO WR FRPH WhLV yHDU DV the board moves for­ward on a prom­ise to clean up three town­ship eye­sores.

In ad­di­tion to the for­mer Acme, an over­grown di­lap­i­dated build­ing at the en­trance to the New­town Swim Club on the Yard­leyNew­town Road is slated for de­mo­li­tion this yHDU WR PDNH wDy IRU D GHnWDO RI­fiFH DnG a clus­ter of boarded up build­ings at Durham and Ea­gle roads will be torn down to ac­com­mo­date The Birches, a new as­sisted liv­ing fa­cil­ity.

“But noth­ing is more ex­cit­ing to the board of su­per­vi­sors than to see this build­ing com­ing down to­day,” said Gal­lagher. “We’re re­ally ex­cited about what Sy­camore Street is go­ing to be­come once this project is done,” he said.

Pho­to­graph by Jeff Werner

A de­mo­li­tion ex­ca­va­tor takes the first chuck out of the build­ing.

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