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Inside King of Prussia’s $1 billion transformation

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From mega-mall to mini-city

Is King of Prussia the new boom town?
Photo by Philly by Drone

If King of Prussia builds it, will they—millennials, baby boomers, and commuters—come?

Eric Goldstein likes to think so. The executive director of the King of Prussia Business District has spent the past six years spearheading efforts to turn King of Prussia’s reputation as a mega-mall to a place where people actually want to live.

“When I came to King of Prussia in 2011, what I saw was amazing,” said Goldstein. “King of Prussia is a true edge city, which is a town that is outside of the region’s downtown, but has an economy that’s so large and stands on its own—that’s absolutely true of King of Prussia.”

So far, Goldstein’s efforts seem to be working quite well. In the last few years, $1 billion has been invested into King of Prussia, which sits just 20 miles outside of Philly. Businesses have moved their headquarters here and developers have built up vacant land with mixed-use projects, and national retailers have set up shop in the area’s new town center.

But by all accounts, King of Prussia is only just getting started. Thousands square feet of development is currently under construction, with even more in the pipeline. Here are some of the most transformational projects changing King of Prussia, turning it into a shopping haven to a suburban live-work-play hub.

via KOP Rail

KOP Rail Line

Arguably the most highly-anticipated project for King of Prussia is also the most ambitious and long-time coming: The King of Prussia Rail Line. Spearheaded by SEPTA, this effort to connect King of Prussia with the Norris High Speed Line (NHSL) has been years in the making, and there are still plenty more years to go.

“It has amazing potential,” says Goldstein, whose organization helped launch the KOP Rail Coalition. “And it was amazing to me that King of Prussia was able to get itself to where it is today without public transportation. That was shocking to me in 2011 and still is in 2017.”

The project has been marked as high priority by SEPTA, and it’s been pegged as the shot in the arm for King of Prussia, which for decades has been snarled in traffic and congestion, given its location sandwiched between four highways. The hope, says Goldstein, is that the KOP Rail will not only take more cars off the road, but also encourage more mixed-use development around the future transit hub and thereby convince commuters to stay put.

“The people going between Philadelphia and University City, or even Main Line will have this option that will sure beat sitting on the Schuylkill,” says Goldstein.

If all goes to plan, the area could have an operational train by 2025.

Top right: Employees at 251 Dekalb have been trained by La Colombe to brew free coffee for residents. Bottom: The 1960s apartments underwent a multi-phase $50 million renovation.

251 DeKalb

251 Dekalb is one of the largest redevelopment residential projects in the region, spanning 26 acres in King of Prussia. With the help of Varenhorst Architects, developer Candlebrook Properties just finished a complete overhaul of the property’s five modern residential buildings, transforming 641 units into a ultra-luxurious apartments with midcentury modern and minimalist finishes.

At the development, it’s clear to see that 251 Delkab is drawing both young professionals and young families to its grounds (the free La Colombe coffee every day is just one of the community perks).

Josh Levy, managing director and head of acquisitions and development for Candlebrook Properties says the renovated apartments fill a gap in the rental market that King of Prussia had been sorely missing for years.

“We’re already seeing families come and live here,” he says. “The anticipation is that [...] as millennials expand their families and leave urban environments, but don’t necessarily want to become homeowners, this kind of environment is the environment for them.”

The rental market expanding all over the area, with a number of other developments following in Dekalb’s footsteps. Ave King of Prussia will bring 275 luxury apartments (some of them furnished for corporate use) in January 2018. Meanwhile, Park Square will bring an additional 320 high-end rentals to the King of Prussia business park.

Canvas Valley Forge

Drawing millennials to its town limits isn’t King of Prussia’s only mission—it also wants to help baby boomers stick around, too. At least, that’s the goal of Bozzuto Group’s new Canvas Valley Forge development, which is specifically catered to adults aged 55 and older who want to “simplify” their lives.

It’s the first development of its kind for Bozzuto, which decided to embark on this type of project based on years of research studying this demographic. Although one Freddie Mac survey found that young baby boomers hope to stay in their current homes, 40 percent suspect they may move at least one more time before retirement.

Bozzuto’s banking on that group to make their move to King of Prussia.

When the 232-unit apartment development opens in the fall, it will offer its older tenants a long list of resort-style amenities that were specifically chosen based on their demographic: Everything from an in-house salon to an inner courtyard with a pool to a game room equipped with Wii bowling.

The hope is that Canvas helps make the transition from homeowner to renter more accommodating and manageable for these young baby boomers, said Pete Sikora, The Bozzuto Group’s development manager.

Courtesy of King of Prussia Town Center

KOP Town Center

But perhaps one of the most surprising transformations in the area has been that of the King of Prussia Town Center. The 260,000-square-foot town center, just steps from the numerous residential developments like Canvas, has given the area its first so-called Main Street and drawn national restaurants and retail to the area.

The KOP Town Center opened only last year in July 2016, but it is already 90 percent leased, including big names like Founding Farmers and Honeygrow. Just last week, CBRE announced seven new tenants that plan to open here.

Says Goldstein, “Where the game used to be was at the King of Prussia Mall. Now, we have the KOP Town Center, which has really injected a whole new life of retail that wouldn’t necessarily go into a mall.”

It’s not just food and clothes that have turned the center into a popular spot for out-of-town businesses and residential. Though still home to 2,100 parking spaces, the town center offers the King of Prussia one of its first tastes of walkability, says Goldstein.

And along with the restaurants and retail, there’s a public space in the center, which has played host to plenty of programming like outdoor concerts and yoga classes.

Says Goldstein, “The center has also infused energy and vibe into the town that never had a downtown.”