LEWISTOWN - Deputy Secretary for the state Department of Community and Economic Development Champ Holman stopped Thursday in Lewistown as part of a three-day on-the-road kickoff of Gov. Tom Corbett's "Jobs1st" initiative.
Holman, along with staff from both his and state Sen. Jake Corman's offices, met with representatives from Mifflin County Industrial Development Corp., Downtown Lewistown Inc., Mifflin County Planning Commission, Borough of Lewistown and SEDA-COG Housing Development Corp. at Mann Edge Terrace in Lewistown.
After a tour of the building, which is a 31-unit apartment complex for senior citizens at the corner of Brown and Dorcas streets, a luncheon meeting was held to discuss funding for the second phase of the housing project, Mann Edge Terrace II.
Sentinel photo by BUFFIE BOYER
Michael Fisher, left, of SEDA-Council of Governments, gives a tour of Mann Edge Terrace on Thursday in Lewistown to Deputy Secretary Champ Holman, second from left, of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, while Rob Postal and Bill Gomes, right, join the tour.
MCIDC President Rob Postal opened the meeting with a brief history of the land on which the Mann Edge project is taking shape.
Postal said Mann Edge Tool Co. made axe heads for more than 100 years on the site currently occupied by Mann Edge I. It was sold to a company based in Mexico about a decade ago and that company closed the Lewistown plant to move production to Mexico.
Because of its proximity to the downtown area, Postal said, the parcel was not ideal for industrial development. MCIDC determined the best use for the land was to turn it into housing.
With Mann Edge I complete, the tax revenue from the property jumped from about $3,000 to approximately $30,000 per year. Mann Edge II is expected to double that tax revenue, Postal said.
Finding tenants for the new structure should be no problem, either. Mike Fisher, chief of housing for SEDA-COG Housing Development Corp., said it typically takes eight or nine months to rent structures like these to capacity.
The apartments at Mann Edge I were occupied within four months and it has a waiting list of more than 100 people, Fisher said. With an average turnover of only one or two units per year, the demand for senior apartments like the ones at Mann Edge Terrace will exceed the supply of both buildings.
But first, Mann Edge II must be constructed, and to accomplish that it must be funded. With four floors instead of Mann Edge I's three, and 34 units instead of 31, the overall cost of building Mann Edge II is estimated at about $6.9 million, according to figures Fisher provided.
Fisher also provided a list of proposed sources for funding, including the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency's PennHOMES program, which according to PHFA's website offers zero percent interest, deferred payment loans that can be used to support the development of lower income rental housing. Fisher said the application has been submitted and PHFA's approval is critical to the project. If the loan is denied, Fisher said another application will need to be submitted next year. At the same time, PHFA will review the application for federal low-income housing tax credits, which provide an incentive for investors to back the project. Similar incentives were offered to investors who supported Mann Edge I.
MCIDC, Lewistown Borough, SEDA-COG Housing Development Corp., Juniata Valley Bank and Kish Bank are listed as possible sources of funds as well.
Fisher then asked Holman to consider a state investment of $835,000 through DCED, about 12 percent of the total development cost.
Of that total, a proposed $140,000 would come from Mifflin County Community Development Block Grant funds, which are distributed at a county level but originate from DCED, so those dollars would be set aside for the area already.
Another $195,000 would be requested from the Industrial Sites Reuse program. Those dollars would be used to remove industrial debris from the land prior to construction of Mann Edge II. The debris to be removed is mostly the remains of buildings that used to be on the site and over time were pushed down into the ground.
The remaining $500,000 of the total investment requested from the DCED would be from Keystone Communities, a program run by DCED. The program designates and funds communities implementing Main Street, Elm Street, Enterprise Zone efforts or other community development efforts. The Mann Edge project falls into the Elm Street category because it is a residential area in close proximity to downtown. The program operates on the premise that revitalized downtown areas will draw visitors and customers if the surrounding neighborhoods are nice as well.
If funding is secured, the 10-month construction period could begin in spring 2015.
"You've heard the testimony," Fisher said. "The need is here, and I think the property speaks for itself."
Holman said the presentation would be taken into consideration and complimented the organizations and the borough on their cooperation, saying sometimes organizations don't even talk to each other. He also praised the group for taking on the development of apartment housing; most organizations are only interested in industrial development and taking on housing is almost unheard of, he said.
"I commend all of you, I really do," he said. "This is a great opportunity for the community."
Postal and Jon Zimmerman, president of Downtown Lewistown Inc., then brought Holman's attention to the matter of the multi-unit fire in Juniata Terrace two weeks ago. They outlined the historical significance of the Terrace and indicated that 27 of the 28 homes on the block were affected, with at least 10 houses being unsalvagable.
"How can we restore the neighborhood? How can we keep this neighborhood, this district here that goes back to 1925?" Postal asked. "We'd like to work with your staff to see if there's anything DCED can do."
"The longer term itself is probably our biggest problem," Juniata Terrace Borough Council President William Conaway said. He said the council would like to keep the historical value of the area, but they're going to need funds. The tax base is very small and strictly residential - only about 600 people live there, and now an entire block of homes is gone.
Postal said he would like to bring one of Holman's staff to Juniata Terrace in the future.
Ed Geiger, community development office director at DCED, suggested Conaway and the council should gather information on how much of the loss can be covered by homeowner's insurance. Geiger noted that process might lead to ideas for future plans, which could then be discussed.
For more information on programs funded by DCED, visit www.newpa.com.