’20 years behind’ in development, Norristown is looking for a change

Dekalb and Main streets in Norristown, Pennsylvania. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Dekalb and Main streets in Norristown, Pennsylvania. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Norristown’s municipal leaders are spearheading an initiative, with the help of the Montgomery County Redevelopment Authority, to further develop the downtown area with a mixed-use project at the corner of Main and DeKalb streets.

The authority and the Norristown Council are allowing voluntary visits to the site as they continue to seek suitors willing to “acquire, design, finance, construct, manage, and market” the property — an area the Redevelopment Authority recently acquired, according to the request for proposals.

“We are looking for developers to come and give something different and new to Norristown in regards to development for that area,” Norristown Council President Derrick Perry said.

Successful development there is key to improving the rest of the downtown area, local leaders believe. The property contains 10 distinct plots across about 0.8 acre. The land’s proximity to transit is appealing, they said.

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The property is comprised of ten contiguous parcels at the intersection of Main Street and Dekalb streets totaling approximately .806 acres. (Courtesy of the Municipality of Norristown and Redevelopment Authority of Montgomery County)

“What we’re looking for is a mixed-use development, residential on the upper floors, commercial on the bottom floors,” said Crandall Jones, the municipal administrator.

Norristown is currently home to about 35,000 people. Jones said the initiative was launched to expand the town’s presence.

“We want to create some additional density in the town to help diversify our tax base, but we also want to create and stimulate more commercial activity in our downtown,” Jones said.

Vacant retail buildings in downtown Norristown, Pennsylvania. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Council President Perry is well aware of the perception that Norristown, though it’s the Montgomery County seat, has lagged in both commercial and residential growth.

“One thing about Norristown is we’re 20 years behind in regards to development — maybe it’s more,” Perry said.

He acknowledged what he believes were the shortcomings of councils past in that regard. Changing the narrative is exactly what the current council is planning with this project.

“…We’re trying to spur the development so property taxes can go down, as well as for us to have places to work, to live, and play just like every other community,” Perry said.

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Questions from interested parties are due to the Redevelopment Authority by Dec. 14. Norristown and the RDA will respond by Dec. 28.

All proposals are due by Feb. 15. Potential developers should submit all materials to RDA executive director Rebecca Swanson at rswanson@montcopa.org. Perry is encouraging people of color to send proposals for the site at Main and DeKalb.

Nearby, the county government is in the middle of redeveloping its justice center campus, to the tune of more than $400 million, according to Jones. The newly renovated Montgomery County Justice Center is expected to be complete in 2025.

Also underway are preliminary engineering and the final environmental impact statement for SEPTA’s planned King of Prussia Rail Project, which would extend the Norristown High Speed Line about four miles into the King of Prussia area. The refined route includes five planned stations.

“Norristown is on the rise,” Perry said, “and if you’re not paying attention, I say come and talk to us.”

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