If you build it, they will come. At least, that's the idea behind SEPTA's first new train station in 18 years.

The new Ninth Street station in Lansdale was built to breathe new life into a defunct industrial property, the former site of the American Olean Tile Company plant. The train stop boasts bike racks and 78 permanent parking spaces. It's so new that landscapers have yet to begin on what was just mud on a recent sunny November morning.

But, with Lansdale's other regional rail station closing off some of its parking during the construction of a parking garage, officials saw an opportunity to drive commuters to the new station, followed, they hope, by new development.

"In 10 years, you'll understand exactly why this station was built," said SEPTA general manager Jeff Knueppel, following a Monday press event to mark the opening.

SEPTA spent about $1.8 million on the station, and Stoltz Property Management Group, which owns the Olean site, kicked in some of its own money.

Dense, walkable growth

The surrounding neighborhood is mostly modest single or two-story homes and row homes, but officials envision a dense, walkable development on the industrial site.

The area has already been rezoned to make that development easier, and Stoltz is expected to submit a master plan for the site, according to Lansdale Borough Manager Jacob Ziegler.

"The longer term vision is one where people will walk to new jobs and to new housing opportunities that will exist in this area," said Knueppel.

U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle picked up the drumbeat for this type of development, called "smart growth," pointing out that public transit ridership is on the rise nationally.

"From 2001 through today, nationwide there has been a 46 percent increase in public transit" usage, said Boyle at the ribbon-cutting. "There is greater demand than ever before." 

State Rep. Bob Godshall, Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro and SEPTA assistant general manager Bob Lund also made supportive remarks.

Philadelphia suburbs are looking to what's called "transit-oriented development," where communities crop up around public transit hubs, to cater to this trend. As reported in a PlanPhilly story on Ninth Street Station last month, transit-oriented development has a tendency to attract more affluent residents and drive up property values.

The old station, located about a mile away in a century-old building on Main Street, will continue to operate. While the old station is under construction, parking at Ninth Street Station, which added 125 temporary spots for the overflow, will be free.