Catasauqua Press

Monday, September 24, 2018

Borough gets grant for Iron Works

Wednesday, August 22, 2018 by PAUL CMIL Special to The Press in Local News

Catty has preferred developer; consultant says project is ‘shovel ready’

At council’s regular meeting Aug. 13, Catasauqua Mayor Barbara Schlegel announced the borough received a $1.5 million state grant for improvements at the Iron Works project.

“Everyone involved with the project has helped to move this forward. State Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-18th, and state Rep. Jeanne McNeill, D-133rd, pushed our request through at the state level,” she said.

The grant comes from the state’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP).

“Municipalities from around the state identify their capital projects and enter the expected cost into the fund,” Chad Helmer, of Taggart Associates, said.

The borough hired Helmer to assist with project development. He has worked closely with Councilwoman Christine Weaver and Eric Nolter, of Spillman Farmer Architects, to get a conceptual design and zoning requirements detailed.

Only a small percentage of the projects listed in RACP actually get funded. The selection criteria are set by the state.

“This project is at an advantage because it is ready to go — shovel ready,” Helmer said.

He worked closely with his state contacts and the legislators’ staffs to get the project approved. Plus, the borough was awarded a Community of Distinction award and set up the municipal building on the property.

The timing was good. The federal Environmental Protection Agency, under former director Scott Pruitt, with a big push from the White House, set cleaned-up brownfield sites across the country as a goal. Regulations were streamlined and money made available for environmental studies.

“The EPA has done very well in getting sites cleaned up. Money for environmental studies on this site was from the federal government,” Helmer said.

There is pressure on states to meet the EPA’s aggressive schedule.

The borough has nearly $7 million in projects itemized in RACP.

“We were looking for $3.9 million. But we can apply for consideration again, if needed,” council President Vincent Smith said.

The borough has a preferred developer for the project and has been working with that group to get a sales agreement in place. There is an ongoing concern that questions the economic viability of the development without the borough putting in public roads and utilities.

“With this grant, we have leverage to get the sales agreement done,” Solicitor Thomas Dinkelacker said.

The present idea is to use the grant for roads and utilities. The $1.5 million grant is a lot, but the site is older and may need improvements over and above standard improvements.

The project is speculative — that is, there are no firm buyers for residential or commercial properties in Iron Works. Most likely, the project will be developed in phases. If the early phases take off, there is little need for more grant funds.

RACP is not the only funding for rejuvenating Front Street. The township engineer is “working with Transportation Alternative Program (TAP) funds for roadway improvements that include sidewalks, landscaping and roadway improvements.

“The TAP plan will work with property owners along Front Street. The property owners need to know that there will be requirements for them to take action,” Helmer said.

The question on everyone’s mind is this: When does it start?

The borough started Iron Works years ago. The whole premise of the borough buying the land was to develop the property, so it brings in more revenue. Municipal buildings are not taxed.

“We don’t have an agreement signed yet,” Dinkelacker said. “It takes longer with a government project than in the private sector.”

Helmer said he estimates 18 months before someone starts tearing up the ground.