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Retreading CarlisleOffices, homes could rise in place of two former auto parts factories

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A building in the former International Automotive Components Group complex — considered for redevelopment — is reflected in a traffic mirror in Carlisle. Photo/Amy Spangler
A building in the former International Automotive Components Group complex — considered for redevelopment — is reflected in a traffic mirror in Carlisle. Photo/Amy Spangler

The closing of the International Automotive Components Group and Carlisle Tire & Wheel factories in Carlisle hollowed out the borough's manufacturing base in recent years. But the combined 60 acres of vacant buildings could be redeveloped as commercial and residential properties.

Plans are moving forward to demolish the old and make way for new business on one property. And about four blocks away, similar changes could come to a second, owners and borough officials said.

The projects could take shape early next year and would mean a significant rejuvenation for Carlisle's economy, they said.

New York-based real estate investors RE Invest Solutions closed last week on its acquisition of the former Tire & Wheel factory at 621 College St. RE Invest, which specializes in brownfields, plans to demolish the factory and rebuild. Commercial office space including medical offices, as well as a residential component, are being considered, Principle Thomas Lobasso said.

"We're putting together conceptual plans to see what works there," he said.

Carlisle Events, the car show producers that acquired the 48-acre IAC property on Carlisle Springs Road last year, hired Hampden Township-based Delta Development Group Inc. to evaluate the property and consult on its redevelopment. Carlisle Events could decide on what to do with the property by December, but options are slim and redevelopment is a good possibility, CEO Bill Miller Jr. said.

"We're trying to fit our property into the entire (borough) comprehensive plan," he said.

The redevelopment of IAC and Tire & Wheel is important to Carlisle's future success, which is why the borough and county have taken interest in those sites and other brownfields, officials said.

Borough officials are brainstorming ways it can incentivize the redevelopment of such sites, Councilman Sean Shultz said. Section 108 loan guarantees using federal Community Development Block Grants could be one way, he said. Such public backing could be enough to bring more private investment if companies know there's a lower risk to sink money into redevelopment.

Like many towns, Carlisle has focused many efforts over the last decade on rejuvenating itself, including attracting more businesses back to the downtown commercial district, beautification projects and calming traffic with a "road diet." Reusing former industrial sites before they become eyesores and nuisances is critical to that goal, officials said.

"All we want is to make sure the properties are redeveloped in a way that is compatible with the neighborhoods, creates economic opportunities — jobs and housing — and so the properties remain on the tax rolls," said Perry Heath, a councilman on the economic development committee.

Both IAC and Tire & Wheel are multimillion dollar tax assessments, so it's important to reuse the properties for new business if they can't be industrial sites anymore, Heath said.

"Brownfields present unique opportunities," Lobasso said. "These old factories, in many cases, used to be the center of towns, and the community developed around them. So there's an opportunity there (to rebuild the town)."

Nothing could be truer of Tire & Wheel and IAC. Both factories have a long history in Carlisle.

Although Carlisle Cos. now is based in North Carolina, Tire & Wheel, the original company, was founded in 1917 in Cumberland County, according to a history on the company's website. At the time it was known as the Carlisle Tire and Rubber Co. By the 1960s it had diversified into roofing and construction materials, as well as specialized products for the aerospace industry.

The College Street factory expanded, including taking over a small section of B Street and building on top of it. About 340 people worked at the plant when the company announced it was closing in 2009. The factory was closed by December last year.

The permitting and decommissioning process for the Tire & Wheel site could begin by the end of November, Lobasso said. Demolition and environmental clean up would begin in early 2012 and completed 10 to 12 months later, he said. That means it likely will be 2013 before new construction takes shape on the property.

However, the entire project is a significant opportunity for the local economy, from demolition and construction crews to engineers, architects, real estate brokers.

"Our preference is to work with local companies," Lobasso said.

IAC bought property from Lear Corp. in a joint venture. Michigan-based Lear took over the property when in 1996 it acquired C.H. Masland & Sons, a 130-year-old carpet manufacturer from New Jersey. Masland expanded the plant numerous times since its purchase in 1919, according to a history on the Masland family website. At its height, more than 1,000 people worked at the factory.

Michigan-based IAC, which made carpets, foam cushions and other interior components for auto manufacturers, closed the Carlisle plant in December 2008 after failed union talks the year before and rapidly sinking auto sales during the recession. The factory's workforce went from 630 people in 2006 to 152 at closing.

Carlisle Events wanted to lease or sell the factory to another manufacturer, but redevelopment companies are more interested, Miller said. No one wants to rehab an old factory anymore, he said.

"The buildings have been there since the '20s and are in beautiful condition," Miller said. "But you have to ask yourself, 'Is it conducive for reuse?' The answer is probably not."

Cumberland County to create brownfield inventory

With redevelopment plans on the horizon for two of Carlisle's vacant industrial properties, Cumberland County officials are planning for a countywide brownfields inventory that could spur more redevelopment or reuse and bolster the local economy.

The discussions are in their infancy among the county Planning Department, Redevelopment Authority and Cumberland Area Economic Development Corp. to produce a list of former industrial sites, or even commercial sites in need of environmental cleanup, officials said.

The goal is to begin creating the inventory next year, said Kirk Stoner, the county planning director.

"The challenge really is to get the word out there to municipalities," he said.

The agencies will need municipal help in identifying which sites are prime for redevelopment and should be included on a brownfield inventory, he said. Business, too, has a role to play, he said.

"If Realtors and developers get a hold of this, they can help us out," he said.

Last week, Dauphin County held a developers summit to unveil a similar strategy to target specific areas of the county for redevelopment. The strategy includes a brownfield inventory. Dauphin officials said they hoped other counties would follow the lead.

However, this isn't the first time Cumberland County has entertained the idea of a brownfields inventory, Stoner said. The county has applied for federal grants to finance a site assessment, but the application process is competitive and it did not receive a grant, he said.

The county plans to do the assessment, draw up a list of top brownfields for redevelopment and apply for a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Stoner said.

In 2011, EPA brownfield programs provided about $130 million to states and communities for redevelopment, assessment, inventories and cleanup of unused, underused and contaminated sites around the country, according to the agency's website. An additional $6.2 million was awarded for job training in environmental remediation of brownfields.

An inventory will help redevelopment planning, which is important in a tough economy, said Christopher Houston, the Redevelopment Authority executive director. Although an industrial use is possible, expense often makes cleanup and redevelopment a more attractive option.

"You're not necessarily going to look at putting another industrial site there," Houston said.

However, there's still tremendous untapped economic value to brownfields, said Omar Shute, CAEDC executive director.

"Sites that are not being used, or not being used to their full opportunity, can be returned into the economy," he said.

New homes and businesses can once again occupy brownfields, which means more jobs, he said. It also reduces the eyesore factor, and new businesses mean less vandalism and crime, he said. As brownfields are redeveloped, governments also benefit from new taxes, spreading the burden thinner for services and infrastructure, he said.

"If we can help that property reach its full potential," Shute said, "then that's more revenue for schools and municipalities which reduces the chance for tax increases."

In a growing county such as Cumberland — population increased 10.2 percent, or triple that of the state from 2000 to 2010 — redevelopment continues economic expansion without turning every green space into a new housing development or commercial park, officials said.

That's important to quality of life because it slows the advance of development toward key green areas that also assist Cumberland County with its outdoor tourism strategy.

The county will be updating its open-space plan next year, so tying in brownfield redevelopment will be important to the county's economic health, Stoner said.

"We've had a good open space plan," he said, "but if you use these (redevelopment strategies) it takes the pressure off."

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