Will Ardmore Transit Center’s Funding Issues Impact the Future of Paoli Transportation Center?

The $180 million Ardmore Transit Center planned for downtown Ardmore shares many similarities with the vision many are planning for the Paoli Transportation Center.  Ardmore’s downtown facelift is to include replacing the existing train station plus a new Main Street area with 500-car parking garage, stores and a five-story apartment building. The project is set to completely revitalize the historic community of Ardmore by the creation of a new mixed-use village much like what is planned for Paoli.

The developer for the Ardmore project, Dranoff Properties of Philadelphia is asking Lower Merion Commissioners for a one-year extension claiming design issues with Amtrak.  In December, Dranoff learned that Amtrak will be upgrading its electrification system in 10 years and the overhead power lines needs to be factored in to the planned design; resulting in at least a 6 months delay.  Dranoff’s extension request will be discussed at Lower Merion’s next commissioner meeting.  However, residents are learning that there is more than design delays, there are money problems due to SEPTA.  If you recall, SEPTA had made a big publicity splash with its announcement of 22 capital projects.   However, now SEPTA is saying these projects may have to wait indefinitely.  SEPTA’s contribution to the Ardmore Transit Center was to be $10 million – SEPTA’s general manager Joseph Casey is blaming Washington, pointing the finger at the federal government’s decision not to add tolls to Pennsylvania’s I-80.

The Ardmore Transit Center has been bogged down by one problem or another since the project originally launched in 2004 with a federal grant.  Just 2 years ago, the original developer pulled out of the project and was replaced by Dranoff Properties. Last year, Carl Dranoff of Dranoff Properties and township commissioners said they were counting on $5.8 million from the Federal Transit Administration, $6 million in state funding for the 500-car parking garage, $10 million from SEPTA, and $250,000 from Montgomery County.

This past Friday, St. Joseph’s University hosted a state House transportation and policy meeting where SEPTA’s general manager revealed that insufficient funding from Washington was forcing SEPTA to cut $110 million from its capital budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.  Although extremely frustrating, Dranoff and Lower Merion officials appear to be optimistic that their money troubles will be resolved and that project will go forward. Or is this going to be another sign of the economics of our times where we see major projects such as infrastructure repairs on roads and bridges,  transportation centers, etc. all put on indefinite ‘hold’?

Hearing the news on the Ardmore Transit Center project, Rep Jim Gerlach (R) responded, “. . . I am becoming increasingly concerned that continuing delays will ultimately threaten the federal funds I have already worked to obtain.  Rather than asking for more delays, the residents and taxpayers deserve a redoubling of efforts by all parties – Amtrak, SEPTA, the township, and the developer – to get this project done as expeditiously as possible.”

So what exactly does this news mean for the Paoli Transportation Center?  SEPTA forced to cut their capital budget by $110 million, doesn’t that impact the future of our economic revitalization project in Paoli?  Since Ardmore started their transportation center project before Paoli, it would seem that their project is ahead of us for SEPTA, state and federal funding. 

I would like for State Rep Paul Drucker to weigh in on the status of funding for Paoli’s transportation center. As the developer for the Paoli Transportation Center, maybe Peter Monaghan of Strategic Realty Investments  could comment as to whether he thinks Ardmore’s funding situation with their transit center will have an impact on Paoli’s redevelopment project.

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20 Comments

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  1. They are spending money in Washington like never before. How ironic that Septa was CUT! Maybe they need better political connections.. Anyone have a chicago connection around here?

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  2. If the Paoli Transportation Center is anywhere near the scale of Ardmore, the DVFS turf field is going to be the least of that neighborhood’s problems.

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  3. Pattye, thank you for a well-written and informative post. Like many other downsized dreams in recent years, the federal- level decision to deny PA the opportunity to toll I-80 will negatively affect plans for needed road and bridge repairs as well as dedicated funds to improve mass transit — all the way down to the municipal level.

    Your worry is well-founded. Is transportation project funding just on hold, or does it portend an extended period of delay in which projects sit idle and developers decide to walk away?

    After all the years of hard work with the Turnpike Commission – by the GVA, our state rep and senator, and the Township to address Tredyffrin’s needs for sound walls and stormwater management – suddenly everything is on hold. What does this mean?

    Likewise, after many false starts, the Paoli Transportation Center seemed closer to reality in the last year, with federal, state and regional commitments, a highly motivated local developer on board, and a lot of optimism that Paoli was finally going to move forward.

    Paoli’s claim to fame – that more commuters pass through it daily than any other station along the R-5- has been tempered by the obvious limitations of the current set-up. Too little parking. An outdated station open too few hours to support non-commuter travelers. Limited housing and shopping within walking distance of the train station. All had been addressed with the current plan. And to this long-time resident, it was exciting…..

    I’m guessing that this delay will become political fodder for the fall elections. But there should be no disagreement that the TP expansion and Paoli Transportation projects should be among the highest priorities for all state and federal candidates representing Tredyffrin.

    I want to hear my candidates promise to promote their vital economic importance to the region and pledge to fight for every dollar of funding.

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    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Mr. Drucker & Mr. Kampf . . . are you listening? As Kate says, ” . . . I want to hear my candidates promise to promote their vital economic importance to the region and pledge to fight for every dollar of funding.” Could we get a response from our candidates? I’m sending this post and the comments to both of you and ask for your comments. It will be interesting to see if either of your respond to me.

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  4. No offense Pattye, but responding to you or not will not be the barometer by which these two men are judged, but by their public actions. I enjoy your forum, but it wouldn’t disappoint me if Mr Kampf or Mr. Drucker decided to address this somewhere else.

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  5. I agree with Kate and Pattye. As a daily train commuter, I want to know where our local candidates stand on this issue. I think that we have waited a long time for this transportation center and based on what I see in Ardmore, it doesn’t look good. I’d like some reassurance from our candidates that they intend to make this a priority. Of course, understanding that it is election year, I’m not sure we can believe whatever they say but nonetheless, I would like a statement from Drucker and Kampf and what support they intend to offer with the Paoli Transportation Center

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  6. What do the candidates think about the Paoli train station project. As a taxpayer, who is undecided about the 157, it would make a big difference where I place my vote depending on your response to the train station project.

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  7. People — Pennsylvania is OUT OF MONEY….the Federal Government is overspending…..we complain about any tax increase anywhere….so what kind of “funding” should come to us except PORK….and with the defeat of Senator Specter, you lost a big piece of the muscle that gets it to PA. So don’t even pretend this is a valid 157th issue…..Ardmore may be in trouble because the national party (Democrats right now) want to embarrass Gerlach….
    We dont’ matter folks. And regardless of how exciting some find the notion of a transportation center — do we really need 100s of people driving into and driving out of Paoli to get on a train? Exactly what business do we think that will help except perhaps the coffee on the corner?
    And if Mr. Drucker or Mr. Kampf turn to this forum to pump up their constituents, I would suggest it is someone writing for them….I wouldn’t say the demographics here are worth the chase. I love it here, but I wouldn’t touch it “officially.”

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    Anonymous Reply:

    Such a vision you have for Paoli — I’d like to think that the planned transportation center in Paoli would help the struggling businesses. Look at Wayne, Media, Phoenixville, West Chester — all of these areas had their town centers revitalized and now you are challenged to find a parking spot, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. I think that with the right vision that Paoli could be the same kind of town.

    And I think that the Paoli Transportation Center IS a 157 issue. Whether Drucker or Kampf bothers to respond here would not make much difference probably but the support (or nonsupport) of the transportation center is going to cause some of the constituent votes to go one way or the other.

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    Anon2010 Reply:

    I will defer to the notion that the 157 candidates will need to speak to this issue, but your reference to other retail town centers that are revitalized does not share enough about their revitalization methods to draw the parallel. Wayne, Media, Phoenixville, West Chester — destinations, not transit hubs. Philadelphia airport grew when USAir expanded service — but Pittsburg is the hub….has that made a difference in their business? Except airport business? Why will people driving here from Malvern because they can find a parking spot (as opposed to other smaller Septa stations) improve the business life of Paoli? Do you take the train to Wayne to shop? Do you shop at the airport? Transit centers (69th St comes to mind) are where you park. Please try to drive in or out of the Paoli Train Station today around commute times and explain what economic benefit local businesses will have when people stay on Paoli Pike or Sugartown Road or 252 to avoid Paoli’s center to avoid that traffic. Note that I have no problem with SEPTA creating a hub transit center — but much further out would work for me — not in an established community. Lancaster Avenue in Ardmore competes with Suburban Square –they are complementary destinations to some extent.

    Not trying to be cynical — but my vision for Paoli does not see a parking complex and a more engaging SEPTA/AMTRAK station as a business draw…it just expands Paoli itself further to the west — and most suburban centers are not long, they are square, or circular with traffic flowing around it — not all forced through it.

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    Mike in Berwyn Reply:

    Very well said, Anon2010. As I’ve said on other Paoli Transportation threads, only half in jest, “Paoli – the 69th Street of the 21st Century”.

    Mike in Berwyn Reply:

    “And regardless of how exciting some find the notion of a transportation center — do we really need 100s of people driving into and driving out of Paoli to get on a train? Exactly what business do we think that will help except perhaps the coffee on the corner?” Those are my thoughts, as well.

    “I’d like to think that the planned transportation center in Paoli would help the struggling businesses. Look at Wayne, Media, Phoenixville, West Chester — all of these areas had their town centers revitalized”
    I would not consider any of those towns to be transportation centers – my understanding is that Paoli already has much more Septa/Amtrak traffic than any of those towns. Not sure what needs to be done to revitalize Paoli’s businesses, but I’m pretty sure its issues won’t be solved by the addition of 100s of cars daily driving there to catch the train.

    Again, whether it’s the township, PA or the feds, I don’t think we can afford to spend millions of tax dollars on this project.

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    Kate Reply:

    Its issues won’t be solved by the addition of 100’s of cars daily driving there…”

    The larger vision of Paoli is that it can become much more than a commuter parking lot and escape route. It can become a place to shop or have dinner , a much more appealing, visitor-friendly place for locals and commuters, more of whom could live within walking distance of it all – if Paoli develops the area around the railyard..

    Think of how many options you have when you get off the train in Wayne or Bryn Mawr… Paoli is ripe for its own cachet, but it needs a catalyst.

    Smart investing for the future or pork barrel spending?

    It’s pork if your party is out if power, but many of us believe federal and state spending should not increase but change its priorities to focus on things like mass transit, reducing suburban sprawl and helping revitalize aging towns and cities. Paoli is a proper target for all those reasons.

    P.S. That paranoid comment suggesting that there are forces at work to stop funding – for the purpose of embarrassing Congressman Gerlach -now that’s a real stretch…..If you’re a base Republican, you’ll vote for him no matter how little he’s done over the last two years. If you’re a solid Democrat, you’ll be pleased to support the breath of fresh air that is Dr. Trivedi. But in all probability, undecided voters will hardly consider Jim Gerlach responsible for a hold up in transportation funding. They’ll be focused more on his lemming-like voting record – NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO.

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    Mike in Berwyn Reply:

    Interesting reply, Kate. However, I offer a few points:

    – Please – Paoli is not Wayne and never will be. Look at Wayne – there are many longstanding shops and restaurants, ample on-street parking, 4 churches, a thriving Middle School, and a movie theater within 2 blocks of the center of Wayne. Also, hundred+ year old neighborhoods with highly desirable homes, many of which sell in the millions.

    – In my opinion, the addition of the Transportation Center, and the attendant traffic, would REDUCE the chances that a local resident would drive to Paoli to have dinner or shop, cachet or not. Now, more commuters parking in Paoli might buy more cups of coffee at Starbucks.

    – You suggest a change in priorities – what parts of the budget would be cut to come up with the money for this and other similar investments?

    – The infrastructure challenges of that location are enormous – if Ardmore requires $20+ MILLION, Paoli would likely be at least that much. The rail tracks literally sit on the crest of a hill!

    Some have this romantic “larger vision of Paoli”. Me, I’d prefer to not spend tens of millions of tax dollars on a project with highly speculative benefits.

    Chet Reply:

    what is so bad about suburban sprawl? You live it, I suppose. So now we are supposed to curse the communities that we and our parents built? I think the idea of a better Paoli is a good one. But there is room out here in suburbia as well as room for those mini cities most of us would like as well.

  8. Pattye, RE: Ardmore since 2004? We have had issues like fighting eminent domain for private gain. In general, suffice it to say, there are MANY issues that have dragged the Ardmore project out all these years which are shall we say situation unique?

    For your own sake, don’t liken Paoli to Ardmore. The plans might be similar in parts in theory, yet they are distinctly different. In addition to all the governmental screwiness, then there was the developer switch-up from Lipkin to Dranoff. That all took time. Lower Merion also just takes forever to get anything accomplished.

    You know who a lot of us originally thought was the best for the job? Peter Monaghan of Strategic Realty. His plans were quite nice, and he in fact is quite nice. As a matter of fact, I don’t often say that AT ALL about developers, but I will say it about Peter Monaghan. And I can’t tell from your blog post if you actually attempted to contact Peter before you blogged or not?Peter is usually quite responsive.

    When I have asked about projects in general along the R5 in the land of rail, I have always been told each project is viewed independently. So seriously, don’t go building hysteria over Paoli and link it to Ardmore just yet because at the end of the day I think a lot of what is wrong with Ardmore has to do with what is going on locally and politically in Lower Merion- again, Lower Merion is kind of screwy.

    Also look at the Wayne project in Radnor Twp – that project started AFTER Ardmore and is still chugging along. As in you can see progress.

    I don’t have a crystal ball as to the future, but while I get the comparing of the projects, we are hopeful your project won’t end up as screwy as ours – after all yours didn’t begin with the threat of eminent domain for private gain.

    see ya

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    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Thanks for your comments Carla. I too am a fan of Peter Monaghan and when he was chosen as developer for Paoli’s transportation center, those of that know Peter were absolutely thrilled! As a member of the Paoli Business & Professional Association, I have been very vocal in my support of the transportation center and the overall economic and business opportunities for the Paoli business community as a result of this land development propject. The comparison of the Ardmore & Paoli transit projects was intended as purely economic, based on the realities of budget cuts at the local, state and federal levels. You are right, the last thing we need is ‘hysteria’ – we just need to understand that faced with the severity of the economic times, capital projects can find themselves in a delicate situation.

    The Paoli Transportation Center has been in the discussion mode for years and just when we think we are making headway (i.e. selection of Strategic Realty Investments) there is cause for pause – $115 million SEPTA budget cuts, etc. Also, unfortunately Paoli lies in the shadow of Brian O’Neill’s Worthington project and all know about the mega-billion dollar lawsuit ongoing with that project between O’Neill and Citizens Bank. Economics drive these projects — and I’m guessing that Dranoff could be wishing for a way out of his transit project in Ardmore.

    As for cyrstal balls, here’s hoping that you are right — and that Paoli Transportation Center stays on course!

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  9. This is my first visit to this blog and I found it very informative, both the posts and the responses. As someone who has lived in Paoli for a while I have long felt that before any grand plans can be made for a transit based town center the problems with the surrounding roads need to be addressed. The heart of the problem is congestion created by drivers trying to bypass the back-up at the 252 underpass at Rte 30. Until this is widened,drivers will continue to use E. Central as a bailout and traffic will continue to collect at the the E/W Central & North Valley intersection, this creates a logjam that backs up over the rail bridge, blocking the parking lot entrances and exits and causing gridlock at N.Valley and Rte. 30. In addition to the inconvenience to drivers there is a safety issue as all of these “alternate routes” run through residential areas.
    My thought would be to move the station to the western end of the Superfund sight. Keep the building simple, combined parking deck and station. Create one way in, one way out access using the existing spur roads that come off Rte30.
    Untangling Paoli’s traffic mess will do more for the town’s growth and revitalization than any forced town center ever could. It would also allow that space to develop based on demand and economic feasibility.
    I think the community would benefit more from a modest but functional development than from something like a Worthington style money pit.

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  10. Mike, Your comments are always thoughtful- even if I disagree with your positions. Re redevelopment in Paoli, you express satisfaction with the status quo, and I know that view is shared by other area residents.

    But like many others, I view investment in a new transportation hub and the residential a commercial development that will spring up around it as potentially transformative. New people and their business will be drawn to our community. More tax ratables, more business opportunities.More vitality. Eventually, an actual “downtown” or sorts.

    I think young commuters would want to live in this transformed area, and that young families and retirees might like the convenience of living close to transportation and shopping.

    No doubt, the traffic issues will have to be addressed. Someone mentioned the daily back-up on East Central and North Valley Rd, plus the daily crawl along Rte 252 during rush hour. Obviously, this is a real headache for residents and commuters and needs to be corrected before any additional traffic from an expanded parking at the new Paoli train station. Widening 252 should help a great deal, although widening the bridge over the tracks on North Valley would help as well.

    But I for one can’t wait to see that eyesore of a train station demolished, possibly replaced with a small park or public square, and a new complex built on land west of North Valley Rd.. Improved traffic flow is part of the new plan.

    Mike, re your question about possible budget cuts to pay for redevelopment projects like Paoli, any serious answer would have to take multiple funding sources and huge budgets.into consideration, but….. like everyone else, I believe there is massive waste and misuse of taxpayer money. For one, our state Assembly is too large and spends too much money on perpetuating its bloated self. At the federal level, I’d like to see subsidies to factory farms slashed, defense spending cuts , subject every product and service purchased by the government to competitive bids, tighten up tax loopholes that allow corporations to shelter taxable profits offshore while qualifying for all sorts of government goodies here at home. Just a first pass…

    The subject of government’s spending priorities and needed budget cuts is way beyond the scope of this blog….But if our country can spend $1 trillion on eight years of war, we should be able to redirect some of that to helping improve the quality of life for Americans in their own communities.

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  11. I no longer live in Paoli but I grew up there. One thing keeping me from moving back is the lack of a town center and it’s disheartening to see such anti-town views in my hometown. The station’s closest comparable is jenkintown…except that Paoli’s station is close to the center of town. This is Paoli’s chance to have a there there. It’s also important to note Paoli traffic is two way, with the great valley corporate center down the hill. while worthington is competitive, the Paoli development includes access to not only commuter trains but Amtrak to NY, Lancaster, and Pittsburgh. the key to a successful redevelopment, IMO, is some sort of public space (think a modest version of the piazza at schmidt’s, adn the incorporation of mixed use. why should ALL the offices be located down the hill? this is Paoli’s chance to remake itself and to diversify its tax base. As a disclosure, I will be considering moving into this development should it ever be built. and yes, the bridge over 252 needs to be replaced. I believe part of the plan is to punch cedar hollow through to 30 rather than force everyone onto central.a center island platform will be constructed west of the valley bridge, allowing for SEPTA and Amtrak riders to share a platform (inbound). it could benefit Paoli businesses by providing more parking off peak, more retail spaces (critical mass). I think if it incorporates a small hotel, a grocery store (to compete with acme, maybe whole foods or a trader joe’s), and a gym. It will benefit the businesses in the extant strip mall west of valley. I believe the important aspect is the center platform, the housing and office shuld be privately funded. I know when I lived there we were always going to someone else’s town to spend money (west chester, wayne, bryn mawr, etc).

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