Thursday, October 31, 2013

Plans unveiled for former outlet center in Reading

Originally Published: 10/24/2013 Ron Devlin Reading Eagle

The former Reading Outlet Center, once a jewel in the crown of America's busiest outlet center, will undergo a $13.5 million renovation as a commercial and residential complex.

Standing in the cavernous former Curtis & Jones shoe factory Wednesday, Reading developer Alan W. Shuman said restoration of the five-story, 107-year-old factory will begin in December.

"The first two floors will contain 42,000 square feet of commercial space," Shuman said, "and the upper three floors will contain 72 apartments."

Shuman was joined by representatives of Community First Fund, a Lancaster-based nonprofit, which is providing $6.5 million in funding under the federal New Markets Tax Credit program.

Community First Fund CEO Daniel Betancourt said the tax credit program is aimed at stimulating investment in low-income areas of cities like Reading, Harrisburg and Lancaster.

"Projects like this would not happen without tax credit programs," Betancourt said.

Reminiscent of more prosperous times, the Reading Outlet Center sign still occupies the southern face of the 19th century-style factory that dominates the northeast corner of Eighth and Oley streets.

As recently as the 1990s, when Reading was America's retail outlet capital, consumers flocked to the building to buy Levi's jeans, gifts from Pier 1 Imports and kitchenware from Reading China and Glass.

Vacant for a dozen years, the building's roof collapsed into the upper floors several years ago.

Shuman Development Group, which has renovated two other buildings in the area, put on a new roof and gutted the interior in preparation for renovation.

"It's taken six years to acquire the building, draw up the plans and get approval of the permits needed for restoration," Shuman said. "We anticipate ground-breaking in early December."

Shuman has commitments for children and adult day care centers, a pharmacy and a medical clinic on the first two floors.

The upper floor will house two-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot apartments that will rent for $695 a month plus utilities, Shuman said. Twelve of the 72 apartments will be reserved for handicapped persons.

The financing package, a combination of loans, tax credits and private investment, allowed rents to be consistent with those of neighboring properties, Shuman said.

Reading was chosen for the tax credit, Betancourt said, in part because of its designation as the nation's poorest big city in 2012.

The $6.5 million tax credit was the largest of three under the $15 million New Markets Tax Credit Program.

Tec Centro in Lancaster, a workforce development program, received $3.5 million and the York Academy Charter School was awarded $5 million, Betancourt said.

Accompanying Betancourt were James E. Buerger, Community First's chief lending officer, and Stacey Adams of Wyomissing, a board member.

"This project is in line with the fund's objective of providing reinvestment in the community and affordable housing," said Adams, Alvernia University dean of admissions.

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