In a bright Coca-Cola-red trolley car cruising along Chestnut Street, the potential investors who were getting a tour of Pottstown's possibilities understandably appeared circumspect.
The trolley passed battered and blighted homes near the exclusive Hill School, about 25 in the neighborhood from $45,000 to over $200,000. On Grant Street, it came to a halt before dilapidated and condemned homes, one with a facade the color of Pepto-Bismol.
"Can somebody please buy them?" called out Twila Fisher, head of Hobart's Run, the Hill School's initiative that is attempting to lure investors to the area to boost property values and spruce up the neighborhood.
"Just put in an offer, level them, develop them."
In the early stages, Hobart's Run, recently incorporated as a nonprofit and named for the neighborhood in the vicinity of the school, has received more than a dozen inquiries about commercial and residential properties, said Fisher.
Last month, the school hosted its first conference for potential Hobart's Run investors, which included the trolley tour, which showcased some of the realities confronting the program.
Pottstown is an economically challenged borough in one of Pennsylvania's wealthiest counties, Montgomery. In the state's most recent sales survey, the median home price was under $100,000, about a third of the county median. For median income, it ranks in the bottom 8 percent of the region; its property-tax rate is among the region's highest.
The Hill School, where the annual tuition is $55,600 and whose alumni include Donald Trump Jr. and the director Oliver Stone, is an anomaly in the town.
That has to change, said another alumnus, Gov. Wolf.
"Hill cannot survive the decline of Pottstown, and Pottstown will not survive the indifference of Hill," Wolf told the conference. "Hill can use its immense persuasive powers to encourage successful alums to invest in Pottstown."
"I'm interested in being involved anyway I can," said Christopher Keil, a technological investor from California, whose children attend the school and who said he was impressed with the conference turnout. About 100 people attended, including Hill staff and community activists.
He said he believes Pottstown has legitimate commercial potential but said development will require more than investors simply buying houses, then reselling them at a profit.
"The only way this thing is going to be successful is if there is some anchor available," he said. "Just going in and flipping homes is not a sustainable business model."
Scott Bentley, owner of Video Ray and American Keg, an aquatic robotics company, as well as commercial properties on High Street, told the investors he is enthusiastic about the borough.
"Pottstown has the wide main street, the beautiful architecture. It's just waiting for an entrepreneur to jump in," he said. He said he moved to Pottstown because he was running out of room in his former office in East Pikeland Township, Chester County, and he wanted his employees to be able to walk to restaurants or the drug store.
He purchased the old Levitz furniture store, with over 14,000 square feet of space, on High Street for $275,000 in 2012. It now holds a movie theater and a robotics assembly station.
"It was too big, and nobody really knew what to do with it," Bentley recalled, "but so cheap that it didn't matter. Nobody had bought a building downtown in 15 years."
The Hill School openly acknowledges a strong element of self-interest in Hobart's Run. While the school makes an annual payment in lieu of taxes of about $90,000, it enjoys a generous property-tax exemption. And a healthier surrounding neighborhood would be a draw for students.
Peggy Lee-Clark, interim head of Pottstown Area Industrial Development, a nonprofit responsible for encouraging economic development, described the investors' conference as "electric."
"From my point of view, things are already happening here," she said.