The most populous town in the wealthiest county in Pennsylvania — Tredyffrin Township — stretches from the last five stops on the Paoli Local, north across U.S. 202, to Valley Forge. It's home to shady ridges lined with brick-fronted homes, to big companies whose bosses live nearby — Ametek, AmerisourceBergen, TE Connectivity, Triumph Group — and to roughly as much office space as both of Center City's Liberty Place towers, with the Comcast Center thrown in.
Yet most of its office inventory, built in the 1980s or earlier, is "in danger of becoming outdated," warns a report by the Chester County township's Business Development Advisory Council.
If landlords don't feel an incentive to improve the aging office stock, "vacancy rates will likely climb and building values will likely decline," according to the report issued Monday by the blue-ribbon group of Tredyffrin-resident investors and businessmen.
Rents there have fallen, from an average of more than $27 a square foot five years ago, to about $24, comparable to Philadelphia and well below replacement costs.
Part of the problem is outdated suburban zoning, the panel wrote. Building-height limits promote sprawl and make it difficult for big companies to win coveted energy certifications that "higher-quality corporations" seek.
So Route 202 is lined with "proliferations of dated, single-story buildings in locations not adjacent to residential areas." By easing some height limits and curbs on apartments and stores in office districts, buildings might more easily attract "young, educated workers" around central Paoli and "the largely vacant Chesterbrook retail center."
"Tredyffrin's unique in that there's no earned-income tax, no gross-receipts tax," John Susanin, a member of the council and a partner at SSH Real Estate's Radnor office, told me. "It's an employer's tax haven, compared to Radnor or Upper Merion."
But that also means Tredyffrin and the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District are extra dependent on property taxes. So it is extra important "for the township to maintain a strong, viable office mix to keep those revenues coming," he added. The township needs to copy less wealthy but more "proactive" suburbs like Lower Providence in courting office employers.
"Tredyffrin's a wonderful township, a model community. But we're fully developed. We need to talk about redevelopment," Susanin concluded.
Holtec International, a Marlton-based, $500 million (annual sales) nuclear-fuel-handling equipment manufacturer, says it has joined nuclear suppliers Areva USA and Shaw Group in applying for $542 million in matching funds that the U.S. Department of Energy is offering "to spur the rise of domestic nuclear design and supply capability" by U.S. manufacturers.
Holtec's SMR L.L.C. unit (it stands for Small Modular Reactor) has designed a 160-megawatt "passive" underground nuclear plant — safer, said CEO Kris Singh, than the storm-wrecked Fukushima reactors in Japan because "if there's a problem it will shut itself down."
The firm hopes U.S. aid will help pay for the first unit on a site at the government's former Savannah River nuclear missile complex in South Carolina, SMR boss Pierre Oneid told me. South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. has agreed to operate the reactor and buy power from the plant, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said. In return for state advocacy, she wants Holtec to build a factory at the old weapons site, like the historic ex-Westinghouse plant where Holtec makes nuclear gear in Pittsburgh.
Holtec's group is competing with proposals supported by engineering giants Babcock & Wilcox and Bechtel, Fluor, and Westinghouse. The Energy Department is expected to fund two of the four proposals. A decision is expected in August, said Singh.
"If the government doesn't fund us, the program will be slowed down. But we will find a way to finance it and to get the work done.," he told me. "America will have our reactor. It will become a dominant technology."
Singh is a member of the owners' group that bought The Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com earlier this year.