Manny DeMutis is a Phoenixville native who attended Phoenixville School District along with his two sisters Dodi and Ann. They currently comprise the 3D Group, which was responsible for the revitalization of Phoenixville. Manny is married to Kate and they have three daughters Hope, Paige and Ava.
The ultimate family man, he currently spends time traveling to Paige’s Field Hockey events in East Carolina or visiting Hope at Penn State. Because of the nature of his work, Manny spends most of his summers doing business in his beach chair at Cape May.
How do you breathe life into a dying town or a census district that has a lot of poverty and disinvestment? It is pretty tricky when you come to the realization that no one has invested in these areas or properties for a good amount of time. Stores are vacant and the housing becomes the refuge of the low-income population.
When most traditional downtowns were planned, normally there was a residential component to maximize the income of the buildings, and for practical purposes, enable additional rentable space for the owner. Now, with the movement of people back to smaller towns, the modern-day adaption is not quite like it was in the days when these downtowns were originally designed.
While in Rome last week I had an opportunity to visit the Coliseum which was kind of an adventure to me. After standing in line for 45 minutes we got to see the artifacts and some of the narratives that went along with the impressive ruins. There was one part of the tour that stuck in my mind.
The Borough of Phoenixville's access to passenger rail to Philadelphia ended through the dissolution of CONRAIL. The Mayor's Task Force for the Restoration of Passenger Rail Service to Phoenixville is spearheading the effort to restore service on the same rail line, now owned by Norfolk Southern.
Recently I have been asked to help a community group in Coatesville. The group of residents got together and formed a CDC, with a primary focus on the resident. They are separate from the current effort to revitalize Coatesville. They are what some call, an ancillary group — A group of people wanting to do good.
Regionalism, Urbanism, Smart Growth are all buzz words out there concerning revitalization. Many times, people get all their hopes and dreams defined and try to fit into the buzz words. Then there is an attempt to tell people what they want to hear, rather than what they need to do. If, when planning, there is no context to the planning study, you could find yourself running around in circles looking to establish something that is not what you want to do.
Where you live becomes a part of who you are. In most cases, goods and services provided locally are your window on the consumer world. The location of goods and services is only part of the story associated with the quality of life of a place. The entire living experience relates to the quality of life you enjoy in your localities. In many cases the older neighborhoods, since the 1960s, have experienced disinvestment, outward migration and job loss.
The recent Amazon relocation to New York has been aborted and one of the all-time business recruitments ended with suddenness. The criteria included considering the “sense of place” and “amenity package” of the locations as part of the selection process. Many cities applied, and I believe that both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia were contenders. It was a highly sought-after economic development goal for many of cities and states.
Not every barn needs a group of kids saying, “Hey, here’s a vacant barn! Let’s put on a show.” Similarly, not every railbed needs a trail. I am sure that many people use the trail system in the Philadelphia area and support the conversion of railbeds to trails passionately. I admit that the trails are used quite often by people.
The first time I tried to work on passenger rail service to Phoenixville (Greenline project), I thought we had a good chance of completing the project, and, at the time, the Citizens for the Train group was in high gear. There was a contribution from Liberty Property Trust to do the initial study, and there was participation from Norfolk Southern as we negotiated for the line.
As I toured America the last month or so, I saw that many cities were ghost towns. If there was a large office concentration, those buildings stood vacant. Corresponding retail was either completely closed and all of the inventory pulled off the shelves or closed without notice of closure with inventory and fixtures remaining inside. It was hard to tell if the stores with inventory remaining would ever open.
I have finished my trip across the country trying to assess public/private space in the cities.
I was gone from May 15 to June 15 and stopped in many cities along the way. I took the southern route to head west and used a northern route to return.
I perceived that the virus has had different outcomes in many of the cities. A common factor was the vacancy rate, and it appeared to be exacerbated by communities that experienced civil unrest. There is considerably less foot traffic in almost all of the towns.
As social mores and values change, so do the programs offered by various agencies of government. Things become popular, and there are buzz words that are used and not fully understood. One of the things that have been given more prominence recently in the news media is the concept of “equity.”
I think that having my basic existence upset at this stage of my life was a surprise. I never thought I would spend a year indoors.
Traveling in Italy looking for a house, I became aware of the virus and just got out in time. Upon arriving back in the U.S., I went to Florida for a while and then again, under emergency action, hightailed it home with one quick stop at a Holiday Inn in Walterboro, South Carolina as at that stage of the virus, the US was putting the clamp on travel.
There are many ways to do things in the public sector, and sometimes proposed programs work, and sometimes they do not. I have made my living using programs that do not necessarily work for everyone. There is usually a substantial discussion on why things work or do not work. Many of these issues are dealt with in planning documents.
Pennsylvania Department of Transportation recently provided a passenger rail analysis concerning a one-seat ride from Reading to Philadelphia. The proposed service corridor includes SEPTA's Main Line from Center City Philadelphia, SEPTA's Norristown Line to Norristown, Norfolk Southern’s Schuylkill River Bridge, and the Harrisburg Line to Reading. The proposed station stops are Valley Forge, Phoenixville, Royersford, Pottstown, Birdsboro, and Reading.
My rail project has taken a lot of twists and turns along the way. As you do these kinds of projects, circumstances change regularly and attitudes toward the potential of success are re-evaluated. After much back and forth, Penn DOT completed a study (synopsis article in issue) assessing the potential for the line. Two and a half studies were done previously with the Reading Group creating an AMTRAK operator Plan, the Mayor's Task Force from Phoenixville using SEPTA as the operator, and an AMTRAK ridership and route analysis, which was part of a larger report.
Many of the downtowns in the Delaware Valley have experienced adverse effects on business because of the Covid-19 virus. The lack of access to customers because of various shutdowns has created many landlord-tenant issues that need to be addressed before businesses can get back on track.
The shutdown also impacted the apartment tenants who have been unable to work. Evictions of longer-term tenants would be an unexpected occurrence but with the lack of the ability to earn a living, some of these issues are beginning to surface.