You can't blame people for being excited. Or impatient. Or apathetic.
After all, it's been more than five years since developers announced the ambitious North Cornwall Commons project, a $158.5 million mixed-use development in Lebanon County that had been in the works as far back as 2004.
Since then, the work has been exclusively behind the scenes on the development that will bring retail, residential and business use together on about 150 acres of North Cornwall Township land near the Lebanon Valley Expo Center. A municipal approval here, a right-of-way land acquisition there, but no shovels, no tenant announcements and no visible work.
Starting next year, project officials said, that's going to change.
Construction work on the five-phase project is "no doubt" going to start in the spring, according to developer Richard Welkowitz, with a full build-out hoped for within five years.
Welkowitz still isn't ready to reveal any of the tenants, but he said he has 25 letters of intent from local and national retailers to occupy various spots in the development once it opens. Included in those letters of intent is a hotel company ready to occupy a 100-room hotel planned for the development.
"It was very difficult," Welkowitz said. "In 2007 and 2008, everybody went into a standstill. But now we have several of the phases approved, and before, we couldn't actually say that. Now we can start construction."
Maybe not immediately, but soon, said Tom Richey, a consultant with LMS Commercial Real Estate, a partner on the project. He said there are still some approvals needed, but by the spring the project should be ready to start announcing some of the tenants. He said the development group is about to enter the final phase of a traffic study to be approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
"In about five or six months, we should be booming," he said.
The five-phase North Cornwall Commons is the biggest mixed-use development in the county's history, project officials said.
It's being developed by Springwood Development Partners, which includes Lancaster County companies Blackford Development Ltd., the company Welkowitz owns, and LMS.
The project straddles Cornwall Road north of Rocherty Road, between Route 72 and the Lebanon Valley Expo Center. On the east side of the road is about 81 acres that will be built out over three phases.
On the west side is 36 acres that represent the fourth phase, and another 31 acres that could become the fifth phase. Springwood has an option to buy those final 31 acres. The fourth and fifth phases are designated commercial.
Construction on the first phase — which currently includes a hotel, two restaurants and three office and commercial spaces along with 160 townhouses, according to the project website — had been scheduled to start this year but won't happen until next year, project officials said.
The townhouses would be luxury rental units, according to Jeff Steckbeck, president of Steckbeck Engineering and Surveying Inc., the project's engineering firm.
"That's something that Lebanon County has never had," he said.
The plan also will include about $15 million to $20 million in traffic improvements around the site, Steckbeck said, and recreation opportunities such as an adjacent rail trail.
The project also was delayed by a lawsuit, as North Cornwall Township supervisors moved to block the development.
The sides settled in April 2010, allowing the site development to proceed. The settlement is outlined in an 80-plus-page book of conditions and standards the development must adhere to.
Even with the lawsuit, Welkowitz said, he's seen more public support for this project than possibly any he's done in 45 years.
"Virtually everyone in the community is in favor of the project," he said.
The site became attractive to Welkowitz partially because of the Lebanon VA Medical Center about a mile away.
He said he has a "personal" mission to help veterans and said the hospital has about 600,000 visits per year from patients and visitors.
"Those people that come to Lebanon to visit their loved ones, this might give them another option of things to do and places to go while they're there," he said.