Halfway complete, Magnolia Place has already become part of the community
● By Richard Gaw
On the chilly afternoon of Nov. 1, 2013, four politicians, two real estate developers and two brewing company owners dug their ceremonial shovels into a small patch of dirt off of West Cypress and Mill Streets in Kennett Square.
With each shovel that hit the ground, so too went the hopes and dreams of a concept that many believed would become another grand step toward making the town a walkable paradise.
The prognosticators were right.
A little more than a year later, in that same spot, Magnolia Place rises up out of what was once a neglected brownfield, bearing the fruit of a new way of living: finely built luxury town homes that will eventually form a tree-lined community that defines New Urbanization. As of now, the project is halfway complete; of the 79 units scheduled to be built, 39 have been completed, and of those, 35 of them are now occupied, with four other town homes being looked at by potential owners.
Just down the street, Victory at Magnolia, the future home of a new Victory Brewing Company pub, as well as the three floors of 33 new apartments located above it, is dotted with the appearance of construction workers climbing stairwells and studying blueprints. At this late stage in the construction of both, it does not take the vision of a soothsayer to already see the beginnings of what this all will look like: families enjoying a summer evening dinner on the outdoor patio; ball teams enjoying a hard-fought win over hand-crafted Arctic Monkey brews; and young professionals grabbing take-out on their way up to their apartments above the restaurant.
Attracting renters to the one- and two-bedroom units – priced from $1,100 to $1,600 a month – is going far better than anyone expected. More than one-third of them already have firm commitments from interested parties, even though the apartments are not expected to be completed until March.
"That's a testament to the number of people who want good quality housing in Kennett Square," Pia, Jr. said. "Those who are going to be moving in are currently renting in West Chester and Delaware, and just have been waiting for something more affordable."
Originally expected to open in the second quarter of 2014, the construction of Victory at Magnolia ran into unexpected delays that have added months to its completion time line. Pia, Jr. said the restaurant and adjoining apartment complex is scheduled to be open sometime between mid-March to early April. "From a delay standpoint, we were late right off the bat with beginning construction," Pia, Jr. said. "We had a very bad winter last year where we lost month after month, and the rain that followed was pretty detrimental to our schedule. But delays like this are typical in the construction business, at this point everyone's focus is on getting Victory open for business."
Although the bricks and mortar of the restaurant are still being applied, the menu at Victory at Magnolia is already making the rounds. Developed by Chef Owen Kolva, the food choices will be reflective of Victory's Downingtown restaurant. Expected to be served will be a wide variety of sandwiches, burgers and traditional pub food, as well as the usual variety of Victory brews.
Although Magnolia Place stands at the halfway point of completion – it's expected to be finished by next year – and Victory at Magnolia looks to open its doors this spring after several months of delays – its original concept of blending smart growth, urbanization in a community setting, is already succeeding.
"The small-town feel and the walkability is what's drawing people here," said Magnolia Place salesperson Tara Stitz of Kennett Square Realty and SAI Builders, LLC. "People like the fact that they can leave their home and walk a few blocks a cafe. There is a family energy in Kennett Square, and people can't help but feel that. Even when they're in our model home, they get that sense that they're a part of a family."
Who's moving in? Name a demographic and you'll probably be accurate.
"We are seeing a mixture of empty-nesters, young professionals and families," said Mike Pia, Jr. of Kennett Realty. "But the majority of people we're seeing are those who are selling their larger homes in the area and wanting to move into a community setting."
Nadiene Ringer-Friedrich, a sales associate with SAI Builders, is moving to Magnolia Place with her husband and two children by July. Although the family's new home will only be a six-block move from their current home – built in 1913 – it will be a new living arrangement.
"We've been searching for a long time for a larger home in the borough that offers the amenities we want, such as a garage and family room space," she said. "In the borough, a lot of the homes are either really small or really large, and either way, they tend to sell before they even make it to the market. Moving here, we will have a garage, an efficient heating system, and a lot of modern conveniences."
Included in nearly every broad stroke, sweeping economic forecast from Maine to Alaska is a similar refrain: that the Life-Work-Play concept that created the modern suburb in Post World War II America is now an archaic one. The new model calls for a near complete reversal of the past; today's younger work force - those between 25 and 34 -- are going against the trend of living in the suburbs and commuting to office parks on the far reaches of a town. In short, they want to both live, work in play in towns that offer all three components.
The tendrils of this early and anticipated success have also extended into the local economy. Between Magnolia Place, Victory at Magnolia and the adjacent Cannery Row mixed-use village project also underway, Pia, Jr. said that $45 million in private investment has been added to the local economy, as well as 375 construction jobs, and 100 full-time jobs and 110 part-time jobs that will be created.
Although that's part of the plan that's driving the immediate success of Magnolia Place, not every individual or family with a fairly substantial income has the ability to fork over the initial down payment for a town home at Magnolia Place – whose asking prices have ranged from $319,000 to $600,000, depending on the size of the home.
To make the idea of moving to Magnolia Place a more affordable option, Kennett Square Realty has been working with TD Bank in Oxford in establishing special mortgage rates, all made possible through the Community Reinvestment Act that the bank has established for first-time home buyers in Coatesville, Oxford and Kennett Square. Under this program, it's just a three percent initial down payment, Stitz said.
"For each person who comes in, regardless of their financial situation, we're really trying to work out the best way to get the people who really want to be a part of this community in here," she said. "I think something special about this community is that regardless of the varying demographics that our home owners fall into, whether they be first-time home buyers, families, or active seniors, they all carry the same energy, and they all want to bring that to Kennett Square."
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.