The deserted Dixie Cup factory in Wilson Borough – icon to some, eyesore to others – has once again hit a bump on the road to renewal.
For the third time in three meetings, Wilson Area School Board last week again held back from approving a new 10-year, $680,000 tax-abatement plan intended to spur development of the blighted facility, which has sat vacant for 30 years.
“I don’t know what to say,” said a frustrated Wilson Borough Council President Lenny Feinberg after the meeting.
Along with several other borough, county and valley development officials as well as the owners, Feinberg has been pushing for the creation of one of the state’s Keystone Opportunity Zones, or KOZs, at the site.
Up until now, the school board had seemed receptive.
“I don’t know what their problem was,” added Feinberg. “Right now, there’s nobody working there -- there’s nothing. The school district as a whole will gain in the end. That’s not conjecture – that’s fact.”
School board President David Seiple said the board is “clearly not ready to commit to the KOZ, which was evident by the lack of a motion for its passage." He noted that he himself supports the KOZ. Others aren’t so sure.
“I’d like to see [the site] developed, but I’d also like to see, if it gets the first floor occupied, tax money come out of it also," school board member Anthony Verenna said.
The state-administered KOZ program requires approval by all local taxing authorities before the submission of a competitive application to the commonwealth. The borough approved it last spring, and according to Feinberg, the county also want to see the project succeed.
For many residents and people working in the borough, the behemoth of a building, with its broken windows, graffiti, and lack of life, is a monument to civic inaction.
“It doesn't look nice,” said Justine Diaz, a Spanish tutor who works in Wilson. “They should do something with it.”
Pamela Taylor, a professional flutist and music instructor who lives a few blocks from the historic site, agreed.
“It would be nice” to see it developed, she said, but she wants it done “intelligently” with “a lot of forethought for the environment and infrastructure” and traffic.
“Our neighborhood has a bit of bedroom community feel to it,” added Taylor, “and we don’t want the addition of a large increase in population to impact negatively on that.”
She said if the facility would include residential units, she would be concerned about children being added to the school district without an initial tax base. Although one co-owner has said the plan’s apartments would be aimed at young professionals and empty-nesters, families might possibly still move in.
The $50 to $60 million cleanup and renovation plan calls for a mixed-use commercial and residential property, with offices and one- and two-bedroom apartments.
The tax abatement would run from 2014 through 2023, and both commercial and residential tenants would enjoy tax relief.
“It remains on the ‘old business’ agenda,” the school board's Seiple said. “No doubt, at some point, it will be brought to a vote and decided one way or the other. I personally would vote in favor of it. I sensed last night the votes were not there for it to pass, so I did not make a motion [which would have died for a lack of a second or been voted down].”
For Feinberg, no action is better than a definitive "no."
“The only good thing is that they [the school board] didn’t vote it down,” he said.
Seiple struck a philosophical note on the long-term chances of the measure. “Each board member has more time to grapple with the difficult issue and come to their own conclusions on the merit of the plan.”