Shifting Gears, A former industrial site may be reborn as retail-residential-hotel complex

Thu, 06/17/2010 - 6:36pm

In Wyomissing, where factories globally renowned as industrial powerhouses once reigned, manufacturing gradually has given way to office buildings, retail Meccas and quiet residential neighborhoods.

Now, the most dramatic instance of transformation since the Berkshire Knitting Mills were converted into the VF Outlets in 1970 is underway across Park Road in the 119-year-old former Textile Machine Works property.

Brickstone Realty Corp., Philadelphia, is planning to purchase most of the property and convert it into apartments, condominiums, a hotel and retail space – a project that at this early stage is cost estimated at $45M.

Until recently utilized by Cott Corp for warehousing,, the building last was used for industrial purposes by Goss Graphic Systems, a maker of printing machinery which sold it in 2000 to JMH Inc., a company whose principal is Jeffrey D. Hettinger.

JMH already has converted the southeast corner of the building into a restaurant, Viva Good Life Bistro and Lounge, and will retain ownership of that section as well as the office building on the northeast corner, the Berkshire Professional Center, where JMH has its offices.

Hettinger had submitted a conceptual plan to the borough last year, and now is handing it off to Brickstone, whose past adaptive reuse projects include the Lit Bros and John Wanamaker properties in center-city Philadelphia.

John J. Connors, Brickstone Realty President, said the success of Viva spoke volumes about the market and the latent demand, and said demographic studies indicated Wyomissing had the potential to become a destination akin to the Manayunk section of Philadelphia or Wayne, Delaware County.

“You can already see what’s happening on Penn Avenue in West Reading and at Viva,” Connors said. “The environment in and around the property feels good: mature tree growth, the way the properties are fenced and beautifully articulated. It makes you smile.”

Although Brickstone ideally would like to see the project completed within two years, plans are very preliminary.

Connors said negotiations have begun with a national hotel brand, but he declined to name it. Nor have the details of the retail facilities that would occupy space along Hill Avenue been worked out.

“The Wyomissing market has responded so well to Jeff’s Viva concept that we think there might be some kind of acceptance for other categories of retail at the same quality level,” he said. “Right now it’s unclear whether we’ll end up with three tenants or 13.”

He downplayed traffic concerns, noting that the adjacent outlets are much larger traffic generators. He also said the various uses would have different peak-generation periods and should balance nicely. David Y. Bausher, borough manager, said he was especially pleased that the project is privately funded. “We’re excited,” Bausher said. “These people are…substantial in their background and experience, and bring good concepts and ideas. We’ve been very impressed. And we need some positive stuff in this area.”

One hurdle the developers face is in zoning. Neither of the three zoning districts the property encompasses – light industrial, neighborhood commercial and retail commercial – allows for residential development.

The developers have asked Wyomissing to amend its zoning ordinance to allow for the creation of a re-development overlay district, a concept that could be applied to the projects that meet the criteria.

Existing zoning classifications still would exist, but the overlay would allow aged properties to be redeveloped without the developers having to seek multiple variances.

Borough council and both the borough and county planning commissions would have to approve such a change, said Paul E. Lukehart, assistant borough manager.

Reading Eagle; September 26, 2005