Drawing of a building lobby.

Plans unveiled for former Lans-Bowl site

By Dan Sokil

LANSDALE - Four area agencies have announced a long rumored collaboration project that would blend senior housing, food and fun in a combined complex on East Main Street.

On Friday morning, representatives from Advanced Living Communities, the North Penn YMCA, the PEAK Center and Manna on Main Street jointly announced the joint venture, coordinated with help from the North Penn Community Health Foundation.

“The goals of today’s briefing are twofold: one is to demonstrate bipartisan support at the federal, state, county and municipal levels in both the public and private sectors for the vision and plans of this unique project,” said health foundation CEO Russ Johnson.

“Second is to raise awareness of the opportunities that the housing finance agency raises for these types of projects,” Johnson said, before outlining the details of the project itself.

Known in its working draft form as the Lansdale Collaboration Project, it would build a four story building containing 60 low cost apartment style homes for seniors with a combined lobby, meeting and event space for the PEAK Center, and a cafeteria staffed by Manna on Main Street, connected to the YMCA through a combined lobby and hallway.

The joint venture carries a roughly $28 million price tag and would require a significant portion of that money to come from tax credits provided by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency — whose executive director Brian Hudson was the focus of a concerted sales pitch by leadership of the five combined agencies.

“What you’ve created is a good model, not only for Montgomery County but for Pennsylvania, and hopefully a model I can show to my counterparts in other states across the nation when I go back to D.C. to lobby for more credits,” said Hudson.

Officials from all four agencies who would move into the new building, from Lansdale borough and from the North Penn Community Health Foundation which facilitated the joint venture, all presented the plans Friday morning to the public and to stakeholders in the various agencies.

The collaboration is seeking funding through PHFA’s budget allocations in 2013, and construction on the joint venture — which would be located directly adjacent to the current YMCA located at 608 E. Main Street — would begin no sooner than spring 2013, but could proceed quickly if and when those credits are secured.

“As soon as we get that phone call from Brian next April saying ‘Those credits are secured,’ we’re hopeful we could begin right away,” said Advanced Living CEO Bill Brown.

Brown described what Advanced Living brings to the table for the project: the company has constructed several communities in the immediate area that provide affordable homes for seniors, including the Schwenckfeld Manor and Schwenckfeld Terrace communities in Towamencin and Derstine Run in Hatfield, and have expertise in applying for PHFA funds which helped fund Derstine Run.

Brown described how Montgomery County, and the Lansdale area in particular, have rapidly grown more grey over the past decade and current senior home centers have a three- to five-year waiting list, with high demand across the area for activities for seniors — but pointed out that “these are all needs that can be met by our collaboration.”

Floor plans prepared with a $150,000 contribution from the Health Foundation show how the current YMCA would expand west toward the property formerly occupied by the Lans-Bowl bowling alley until 2007 and purchased by the YMCA last year, and YMCA renovations already underway could gradually be expanded to include a larger family pool and fitness center directly connected to the new construction by a 7,000 square foot joint lobby.

That lobby would front on Main Street and be split between YMCA entrances on one side, entrances to PEAK Center activity space and a Manna on Main Street cafeteria on the other, and be overlooked by three stories of senior apartments run by Advanced Living —in Brown’s words, seniors would have easy access to “enhanced supportive services on steroids,” with a demonstrative muscle flex for emphasis.

“This is a once in a lifetime project that has the capability to make an extraordinary difference in the lives of seniors throughout this community,” Brown said.

All four nonprofits have been meeting through the Health Foundation for over a year to discuss the project, according to Johnson and YMCA CEO Bob Gallagher, and have begun land development and zoning efforts with Lansdale borough to ensure the project furthers the borough’s goals of revitalizing the East Main Street gateway to Lansdale.

“The four nonprofits have been meeting and discussing how to share resources, to have innovation and to take a look at how we do business so that we can better serve older adults, families and children of all ages,” Gallagher said.

Manna and the PEAK Center would both move from their current Main Street locations to permanent homes in the new site - Manna would operate a lobby cafe and shared kitchen at the new building, and the PEAK Center and YMCA could offer programs to the public and training for volunteers of the combined agencies, and transportation and staffing could be shared or combined between each.

PEAK Center board President Nancy Vignau said Friday that the collaborative effort has replaced previously announced plans for the PEAK Center to move to Hancock Street in Lansdale, but roughly $1.5 million in grant funding secured to help with that move could likely be applied to the joint project.

Vignau and Robin Burstein, the acting director of the PEAK Center, both added that the center will have its leadership situation resolved on a permanent basis by the time the credits for the new project could become available next year.

Representatives from each agency thanked the elected officials at the borough, county, state and federal levels for their help in guiding the project, and State Sen. Robert Mensch, R - 24th District, said he was impressed to see a plan come so far so fast.

“We in Harrisburg talk a great deal about the opportunity that multiple service organizations have to begin to collaborate and share resources, but in so many communities it’s all a lot of talk,” Mensch said.

“Here we’re taking another step towards the actual fulfillment of that kind of project, and I think you’re to be commended for your interest and commitment,” he said.

The Lansdale project could even set an example for other collaborative efforts across the state, Lilibet Coe, Executive Director of Pennsburg based The Open Line service agency, said a joint effort between three similar agencies is just starting the planning stages in the Perkiomen Valley area.

“We’ve only just started talking about it, but we’re very interested to see how this turns out,” Coe said.

Applications for PHFA’s next round of funding are due in October and decisions will be made by its leadership next April, Hudson said — but he and Johnson both hinted on Friday that the close work together between multiple agencies would be a strong selling point for the Lansdale collaboration.

“It’s very competitive: we had 96 applications and we funded 32 projects (in 2012) so right now we’re doing probably one out of every three projects,” Hudson said.

“But this is a model that certainly has the partnerships we like to see, and I’ll be keeping an eye on it for you as we move through the process,” he said.

From Sokil, Dan. (2012, Apr. 13). Advance Living Communities, PEAK Center, Manna unveil plans for former Lans-Bowl site. The Reporter. Retrieved from:  http://www.thereporteronline.com/article/20120413/NEWS01/120419821/advance-living-communities-peak-center-manna-unveil-plans-for-former-lans-bowl-site&pager=3