Former asbestos brownfield succeeds as Greentree Business Center
Raymark Industries' factories in Manheim, Lancaster County, once employed more than 1,500 people. But by 2000, the company was bankrupt and left a brownfield contaminated by its asbestos auto brake manufacturing.
Raymark was one of many companies felled by the asbestos liability lawsuits in the 1980s and 1990s. By 2002, plans were made to clean up the site, renovate the buildings and rebuild it as the Greentree Business Center.
More than a decade later, the center is a vibrant business community and a testament to brownfield reclamation programs, business and community members say. And there's more to come.
One of the last buildings needing renovation has been acquired and could become commercial offices. Also, more than a third of the former manufacturing site is up for sale as an investment property.
"There have been a lot of success stories there," said Tom Showers, president of the Manheim Area Economic Development Corp. and vice president of Boyertown, Berks County-based National Penn Bank.
Showers, a Manheim native, said the fall and rise of the industrial property over the decades has been important to the whole community.
MAEDC received a $4.1 million grant and a $5.2 million loan from the Commonwealth Financing Authority to revitalize the factory properties. Greentree also became one of the original Keystone Opportunity Zones, where local, county and state taxes are shelved to attract business, Showers said.
Manheim Auto Auction also ran car and truck repair operations from the site for a time, which helped kickstart the site's reuse, he said.
"It did what it was supposed to do, which was attract investment," he said.
Today, the properties house 19 tenant companies, including Garden Spot Electric and its sister company, Garden Spot Mechanical; demolition firm B&P Neal Enterprises Inc.; and flexible packaging materials company Penn Pac.
"Just to have that site up and redeveloped is a benefit," Manheim Borough Manager Mark Stivers said. "To have the right companies in there is great for the community."
All total, the companies add more than 200 jobs to the area, according to a 2008 advertisement from the state. When every property is functional, there could be more than 500 jobs at Greentree.
It could get closer to that number if a couple of deals materialize and add more businesses to the former industrial properties.
In June, Warwick Township-based Bottom Line Contracting Inc. bought a three-story office building in Greentree and could redevelop it for new offices, Stivers said. The building at 148 E. Stiegel St. was damaged by the hurricanes in 2011, and the idea had arisen to use it as a halfway house for parolees, he said. The borough rejected the idea.
"We want a good use in there, but we just said, 'This isn't it,'" Stivers said.
The prospect of Bottom Line fixing the property for commercial uses is more appealing, he said.
Craig Hasson, Bottom Line's president, declined to comment about the project, saying it was too early.
Additionally, 12.5 acres of Greentree with five single, developed and undeveloped properties is up for sale, said John Thiry, a commercial real estate advisor with NAI Commercial Partners Inc. in Lancaster. The company is the listing agent for the property.
Stiegel Development Corp., which owns the property, is selling it together as an investment property, Thiry said. Three properties have buildings with 19 tenants, while about 30,000 square feet of the buildings is unoccupied. One property is parking, and another is undeveloped land.
Stiegel Development did not return requests for comment.
To some degree, the leases limit the possibility of returning the property to a single company's manufacturing center, particularly when 78 percent of the leases are long-term, he said.
"It would be difficult to buy it, evict all the tenants and restart it as one entity," Thiry said.
The buyer could just be a landlord, finish off the remaining spaces and collect income from the leases, he said. Or someone could buy it with the intent to put their own company in one of the spaces while also being a landlord.
But no matter who buys the property, it's 98 percent leased, Thiry said.
"It's a testament to the improvement from the investments," he said.
One benefit, the property's status as part of a KOZ, will cease at the end of 2013. That means more taxes to the county, school district and borough, Stivers said.
But everyone agrees the real benefit is far more than just the prospect of taxes.
"Having lived (in Manheim) most of my life," Showers said, "it was big for me. It was redeveloping an urban brownfield. If it wasn't for the companies coming there, it wouldn't have happened."