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New Plan for Wilson Dixie Cup Plant?

Developer wants Wilson School District to back tax-break plan for Dixie Cup property.

Could Wilson’s famed Dixie Cup soon be a glass half-filled?

After decades of false construction starts, shattered condo dreams and a gathering sense of blight, the 6.6-acre former paper cup factory is now the subject of a – according to local officials – freshly promising development plan.

Spurred by businessman Joseph Reibman, one of the property’s owners, a coalition of local interests is asking Wilson Area School District to approve a tax-abatement scheme to help jump-start a $50 million to $60 million cleanup and renovation.

Reibman appeared before the school board Monday night, along with borough council President Lenny Feinberg and Lehigh Valley development officials to make a case for the proposal.

“This is a big project,” Reibman told board members. “It’s a significant project. There’s really nothing like it in terms of its size, in terms of its history.”

Once the site is cleaned up, the plan calls for a mixed-use commercial and residential property, with offices and one- and two-bedroom apartments. 

The tax abatement would run for 10 years, from 2014 through 2023, and both commercial and residential tenants would enjoy several kinds of tax relief. Construction could begin in 2013, said Reibman.

According to Feinberg, the market for office space remains locally robust, with Reibman calling it “very strong.”

The plan would utilize the commonwealth’s fairly successful Keystone Opportunity Zone program. KOZ’s are typically granted to underused, often distressed properties; they require the approval by all local taxing authorities as well as the state. The borough approved of the grant effort last spring.

 

“Unfortunately, the [real estate] financing market disintegrated before everybody’s eyes,” Reibman told board members, recounting the property’s long, troubled history. “What’s really important is getting tenants in, and a KOZ does that."

 

The board members looked visibly interested, leaning in to listen, but tabled any action until the Oct. 15 meeting as school officials and its solicitor study the proposal.

So far, the general consensus on the board seems positive.

“I will personally probably vote to approve the KOZ,” board President David Seiple wrote in an email, “but I want to review all the information before making a decision.”

One big unanswered question is exactly how much tax revenue the schools will forfeit. Feinberg estimates that around $100,000 are annually paid, but the revenue is split between county, the schools, and the borough.

Seiple said he wasn’t yet sure what the abatement would cost schools, and that was another reason for tabling any action.

But Feinberg warned that if the deteriorating property gets reassessed by the county any time soon, all local authorities will see tax revenues plummet.

“Mr. Reibman and his partners could go to the county and ask for a much lower [tax] rate,” said Feinberg. “It would not be a hardship for him to get a much lower rate.”

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