Times Chronicle & Public Spirit

Montgomery County Redevelopm­ent Authority discusses progress of state hospital land plan

RFP for 68 acres expected later this month, per municipal officials

- By Rachel Ravina rravina @thereporte­ronline.com

NORRISTOWN >> A major future developmen­t project took a step forward as members of the Norristown Municipal Council heard more details about a forthcomin­g request for proposals to develop land on the grounds of the Norristown State Hospital.

Rebecca Swanson, executive director of the Montgomery County Redevelopm­ent Authority, addressed local officials during a work session earlier this week to give a status report of the 68 acres located at 1001 Sterigere St.

“The goal of the RFP will be to be as broad as possible, and 68 acres is a huge site, it’s a huge developmen­t,” Swanson said. “This is a game-changing developmen­t for Norristown. So we want to be very thoughtful, very deliberate.”

The request for proposals is expected to be publicized by mid-December, according to Municipal Administra­tor Crandall Jones. The land acquisitio­n was five years in the making. An agreement of sale between the state and local entities was reached back in February. While Norristown is the recipient of the land, the Redevelopm­ent Authority is currently in the possession of the property on behalf of the municipali­ty.

Municipal officials have previously expressed interest in a mixed-use developmen­t in plans for the property. Demolition is currently underway on the property, Swanson said, is expected to be complete by March. The Redevelopm­ent Authority also recently applied for funding from the U.S. Environmen­tal Protection Agency to conduct testing.

Building 9, which formerly housed the Coordinate­d Homeless Outreach Center, will remain on the property.

The ongoing saga prompted some controvers­y as the facility, the county’s largest and only homeless shelter and resource services agency, was also located on the land. It closed earlier this summer as overseers Resources for Human Developmen­t work to build another location.

The request for proposals will also include a map of the site and buildings on the property, according to Swanson. The process will also allow for site visits beginning in January and a question and answer period before a formal bid submission deadline.

Jones called the state hospital project “transforma­tional” for the municipali­ty. Council President Thomas Lepera agreed, adding that it’ll allow for “reposition­ing ourselves in the regional market.”

Swanson also stressed the importance of public impact when it comes down to choosing a developer or group for the project.

“This is what we’re going to do for Norristown. This is what this project will do for Norristown,” she said. “That’s going to be kind of the heart of the evaluation criteria, because obviously there’s that financial piece … you need to see the sale price, you need see what this long term economic impact is going to be, but also at the same time that is a use that is beneficial to Norristown, and to the community, and to residents.”

The bid solicitati­on is expected to generate interest at the local, regional and national levels.

After gaining insight from council members about priorities, Swanson said the request for proposals will encompass several evaluation criteria points including scope, design, usage, and economic impact.

“We’re going to require respondent­s to have a formal economic impact statement … to determine tax revenues, job creation,” she said.

But Swanson stressed the need to ensure that developers will be up to the task, as the vetting process aims to delve into applicants’ past works.

“Not everybody can do a 68-acre massive project. It’s just not possible,” she said.

While Swanson clarified the timeline will depend on council members, she expected they’d be “looking at early March” as a possible timeframe. Lepera said he thought between six and eight months as another option.

When asked about a potential figure for the sale, Jones said “it’s going to be driven by the market, market value.” Whatever the final amount, Jones said “there’s an agreement that (the state) will get half of the proceeds from the sale because they gave us the property.”

Swanson added there might be some difficulti­es in pinning down a number.

“There are no comps because there’s no comparable 68 undevelope­d acres in the heart of Montgomery County,” Swanson said.

No formal action was taken after Swanson concluded remarks, but she still was pleased with the progress made.

“It was good to give council and the public an opportunit­y to hear about the process, because a lot of the time members of the public have not necessaril­y been involved in an RFP process before,” she told MediaNews Group. “Members of council have, but it’s good to lay out how thoughtful and deliberate the process is going to be for such a large project.”

“We’ve been discussing this very exciting project for years, and it is very exciting to finally be able to speak about it publicly now that it has been officially transferre­d to the RDA, and we’re really looking forward to working with council on this transforma­tion,” Swanson said.

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