Hardscrabble areas of Reading and York are getting millions in redevelopment and rehabilitation investments with the help of midstate rock stars who have built parallel careers in business.
Think Loud Development is part of the Think Loud family of companies with partners who include Chad Taylor, Patrick Dahlheimer and Chad Gracey of the rock band Live.
The three, along with lead singer Ed Kowalczyk, grew from York beginnings and rode the 1990s alternative rock wave to stardom.
They are credited with achieving international success for their multimillion-selling "Throwing Copper" album.
Now the three's business, under a 120 York LLC affiliate, recently bought a property known as the former Bi-Comp building on York Street in York for use in a two-city plan to bring about 170 high-tech jobs to the region.
The technology company working with Think Loud originally looked at Lancaster, but the bandmates convinced it to consider York, said Bill Hynes, president and CEO of Think Loud Development.
The bandmates wanted to do something good for their home community, he said. Think Loud is not releasing the name of the technology company, Hynes said.
The area of York where Think Loud now is invested is just east along the railroad tracks from Sovereign Bank Stadium, an area of redevelopment focus in recent years, but is much farther away in terms of the surrounding level of industrial decay.
The nearly 62,000-square-foot warehouse building sits on 0.63 acres at 210-236 York St., according to York-based Rock Commercial Real Estate, which represented the seller in the deal.
The property also formerly housed operations of The Maple Press Co. before falling on hard times, said Kevin Schreiber, York community and economic development director.
Prospects were "few and far between" for the property, said Russ Bardolf, vice president of office and investment services for Rock.
It requires rehabilitation and is the type of structure that lends itself to apartment conversion, but the market for this type of adaptive reuse has cooled recently, he said.
So the hope became finding a unique buyer who could have a larger vision of what could happen with the property, Bardolf said.
"Ultimately, that's exactly what happened," he said.
Negotiations started clandestinely in that Rock did not know exactly who the prospective buyer was, though it had some sense of what the targeted end use would be, Bardolf said.
Naturally, the rumor mill swirled with speculation, but the transaction itself was a fairly typical back-and-forth negotiation involving structural and environmental questions that are common with this type of building, he said.
Bardolf said it is great the Live band members are doing this project in their home community.
He also praised the investment by the previous ownership group, which included local businessman Themi Sacarellos, which helped to keep the building in better shape for this most recent buyer.
Think Loud, then known as Think Spot, also acquired a property in Reading last fall.
That 322,000-square-foot building is on about 2.4 acres at 801 N. Ninth St. and is part of a larger site known as the Reading Outlet Center, according to Realtor.com.
Reading once was a premiere hub for outlet store shopping, which attracted many visitors to the city, said Ellen Horan, president and CEO of the Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
But as those types of centers began opening all over the country, they siphoned away shoppers who had made Reading a destination, and the local outlets industry went into decline, she said.
The building Think Spot acquired was one such site, Horan said. Going forward, the notoriety of Live band members could help attract interest and investors to the city, she said.
A development group with some of the same partners tried to acquire the property in fall 2008 and actually went to settlement before bank problems scuttled the deal, said Alan W. Shuman, president and broker of record for Reading-based Shuman Development Group.
This time around, the deal closed and plans are in the works for about 150 apartments, commercial space and a parking garage, said Shuman, who was personally invested in the building and whose firm brokered the sale to Think Spot.
The buyers also have an option to buy another building and associated parking lot, he said.
Shuman said he has worked to redevelop other buildings in the center and fill them with tenants, and the Think Spot effort will add to a general upswing in an area that needs the support.
Nearby, boarded-up houses still abound after outlet workers and others moved out, he said. But there is enough critical mass in the area today that banks can start lending for projects to fix them up, Shuman said.
The York project alone represents an estimated $45 million investment in the city, Schreiber said. The $10 million building project is expected to lead to an additional $35 million in tenant build-out, he said.
About 80 percent of the Bi-Comp building will be turned into space for the unnamed technology firm, Hynes said. The remaining 20 percent will be a recording studio and housing for artists while they record in York, he said.
There will be about 170 jobs coming to the York site and the other Think Loud project in Reading within about five years, he said.
Crews were preparing the site to break ground within about two months, Hynes said at a recent announcement event. The York redevelopment is expected to take about a year, he said.