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Dixie plant proposal gains momentum in Wilson

Published On: Nov 05 2012 11:20:32 PM EST
Dixie plant in Wilson Borough

The Wilson Area School Board is expected to decide during its Nov. 19 meeting whether to roll the tax revenue dice.

The board is considering a draft resolution to support the designation of the former Dixie Cup Plant as a Keystone Opportunity Zone by the state government. Under the proposal, the school district would forfeit about $68,000 in annual property taxes for up to 10 years, in hopes of spurring the redevelopment of the vacant 630,000-square-foot industrial site with a mix of residential and commercial uses that would more than recoup the temporary tax loss many times over.

The board had scheduled a vote on the resolution Monday night, but decided to table the resolution at the request of a board member who was not in attendance, but wants to be present when a vote is taken.

That board member, Anthony Verenna, indicated during a recent meeting that he may support the Keystone Opportunity Zone. “That building is a white elephant sitting there,” Verenna said during the Oct. 1 school board meeting. “We don’t need another seven years of a white elephant sitting there.”

The Keystone Opportunity Zone concept is being pitched by the property’s owner, the Allentown-based Reibman and Reibman, who last month highlighted plans to apply for state grant funding to redevelop its four-story industrial facility into a mix of residential and commercial uses.

The state's Keystone Opportunity Zone program would require Wilson Borough, the local school district and county government to approve a property tax abatement of up to 10 years.

Borough Council has already approved a resolution supporting the grant application and proposed tax abatement. County Council said it will sign on as a supporter if both the borough and school district approve resolutions, according to Reibman and Reibman

The property owner has said the Keystone Opportunity Zone program would help reignite previous redevelopment efforts that stalled several years ago when the economy soured. The former Dixie Cup plant -- built in four stages between the 1920s and 1950s -- was originally set to be redeveloped with a mix of condominiums and apartments totaling 302 units, but that effort grinded to a halt in recent years when the real estate market “disintegrated before our eyes,” the owner recently said.

The latest proposal, estimated to cost between $50 million - $60 million, calls for 50-75 percent of the facility being redeveloped with one- and two-bedroom market-rate apartments. The remainder of the facility would be redeveloped with office space, according to Reibman and Reibman.

While the municipality, school district and county would lose out on property taxes for up to 10 years, there would be much more to gain over the long-term future by allowing the abatement, Borough Council President Leonard Feinberg said during a previous board meeting.

“After 10 years, the value of a redeveloped building will be worth a lot more than it is now,” he said.

Sandy wreaks havoc on school calendar

While the Wilson Area School District’s facilities came away almost entirely unscathed from Hurricane Sandy, the Superstorm has wreaked havoc on the district’s calendar for the remainder of the school year.

“It’s only November, and we lost five days already,” Superintendent Doug Wagner said Monday night.

As a result, the district is shortening its Thanksgiving and spring breaks by a total of four days, and is converting a teacher in-service day into a regular day of instruction, Wagner said.

Wagner said the district is opting to shorten these breaks in an effort to have as many days of instruction as possible prior to the annual state testing.

If additional weather-related closures happen, Wagner said the district will be forced to add days to the end of school year in June.

Superstorm Sandy caused very minimal damage to district facilities, officials said. During the storm's aftermath, the district opened its facilities to the community, including making showers available.