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Work begins anew on Gateway Park project

by Joan Hellyer

Two parcels of land are being transformed not far from the heart of Doylestown Borough.

Work on the former PennDOT tracts at the intersection of North Broad and Doyle streets had been stalled for nearly two decades – but not anymore.

The former PennDOT maintenance building that sits on a three-acre parcel on one side of the intersection is being remodeled into a 16,800-square-foot borough hall and a 13,400-square-foot police department. 

On the other side of the intersection borough employees are clearing out PennDOT’s old salt and storage yard to create a three-and-a-half-acre passive park. It will serve as a gateway into town along the Broad Street Corridor.

Doylestown Borough officials have been working with representatives of the not-for-profit Heritage Conservancy since 2000 to complete the two projects. The envisioned transformation initially developed 20 years ago when PennDOT announced its plans to relocate to another town.

The Doylestown-based conservancy signed an agreement of sale for the tracts with the state in early 2001. Then the wait began.

Borough and conservancy representatives thought it would take a few years for PennDOT to leave the borough and make way for the transformation projects, said Jeffrey Marshall, President of Heritage Conservancy. But everything depended on PennDOT moving to a new location. 

As it turned out, the agency didn’t fully move to its new site in Plumstead until late 2019. 

The long-awaited departure made way for the land conservation and historic preservation organization to close on the properties. It paid the state $875,000 on Feb. 13 for the two parcels.

Doylestown Borough then signed a 99-year lease with the conservancy to use the parcels and is developing plans for the passive park and tract that houses the building. The municipality has paid the conservancy $900,000 for the leased property and will make four annual payments of $150,000 to fulfill its agreement, borough Manager John Davis said.

The borough will use funds from the Delaware Valley Reinvestment Trust and a grant from Pennsylvania’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, plus proceeds from the sale of the current borough hall off West Court Street to help pay for the acquisition and redevelopment of the property, Davis said. 

In addition, Doylestown Borough’s two partners in the Central Bucks Regional Police Department, will contribute to the building remodeling project. Chalfont Borough will contribute $103,950 and New Britain Borough will contribute $90,600, the Doylestown Borough manager said.

The structure was built during the federal Works Progress Administration program in the 1930s during the Great Depression. Conservancy representatives will assist borough officials in applying for a grant with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission to determine the building’s historical significance.

Once work on the remodeled building is completed in about two years, the borough’s municipal complex will be about five times larger than its current facilities, Davis said.

Designs for the passive park are being developed as borough crews prepare for the work by laying 18 inches of topsoil on the open space tract.

The park will be a great way to preserve the parcel, Marshall said.

“We believe that urban centers benefit from green spaces,” he said. “We recognize not all open space has to be located in rural areas. Urban open spaces make towns more attractive and help relieve growth pressure from rural land. They also encourage a healthy lifestyle than includes being outside in natural areas.”

PHOTO CAP: Map contributed by Heritage Conservancy showing the two parcels (building in blue, planned park in green).