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Conshohocken to Enlist Redevelopment Authority to Help Sell Verizon Building

Council hopes to find a buyer who will also repair the building.

Conshohocken is trying a new approach in its efforts to divest itself of the old Verizon building at 402 Fayette Street: Bring in the Redevelopment Authority of Montgomery County.

The borough has owned the building ever since it was purchased from Verizon in 2007 for about $3.25 million. Since then, offers of equal or lesser value have been rejected, while expensive repairs, such as a $408,000 roof replacement, have been tabled.

It was under those circumstances that council brought in Jerry Nugent, executive director of the Redevelopment Authority, to recent meetings to discuss what assistance the RDA could offer.

In September, Nugent explained that the agency has been in existence for approximately 50 years, and assists municipalities in redeveloping blighted or problematic properties. And because the RDA doesn't have to play by the same bidding rules as a public entity, it can more easily find a buyer for a property.

"A unique provision in state law allows the redevelopment authority… to enter into an agreement with a municipality to represent [it] with marketing, attraction of redevelopment, and investment," Nugent said. "If a developer comes forward to try and purchase the property… it's not a public bid and best price situation."

Nugent said that the RDA was responsible for a number of development projects in Conshohocken, including properties along the waterfront, around the outbound station, and at the historic firehouse.

When councilman Matt Ryan asked about what the possible drawbacks would be, solicitor Mike Savona said the borough might not receive the highest potential price.

"Theoretically, the whole point of publicly bidding a property is that the competitive market place will get you the higher price," Savona said.

However, Savona said working through the RDA offers much greater flexibility, in that council can set forth its vision for the building and have the RDA shop that to potential developers.

In turns out part of that vision may be a new home for borough offices. At its October work meeting, council discussed the desire to make a term of the agreement that the new owner provide office space for the borough and police department and take them on as a tenant.

One loose thread is the condition of the building. Council considered a motion Wednesday to pay about $20,000 to Remington Vernick & Beach Engineers to develop bid specifications on what it would cost to repair the building. However, the motion was not approved, and council hopes to have a potential buyer pick up that expense as well.

Council did unanimously authorize Savona to enter into a cooperation agreement with the RDA and begin discussions on marketing the building. The RDA will then work with the borough to determine the vision for the property, and begin the search for a buyer. The borough would have the final say in choosing a buyer, at which point Conshohocken would transfer the property to the RDA, who would sell it, Savona said.

The RDA does not take commission on sales as would a realtor, and has a minimal overhead, Savona said. According to the agency's website, it is primarily funded by state and federal grants, reimbursements from municipalities, and service fees from the private sector.

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