An Australian entrepreneur has acquired an option to buy four buildings totaling about 25,000 square feet at a once-blighted York business park.
Simon McKeown, an experienced urban redeveloper, plans to bring a restaurant and condominium-style loft apartments to the long-vacant properties at the Industrial Plaza of York, people familiar with the deal said.
Buchart-Horn Inc. owns the buildings at 475 W. Philadelphia St., said Bill Lohmann, executive vice president of the York engineering firm. Those red-brick structures are next to Buchart-Horn’s headquarters at 445 W. Philadelphia St. Lohmann wouldn’t discuss specifics of the project, but he confirmed that an investor has an option to buy the building.
Eugene DePasquale, director of economic development for the city of York, said the city isn’t involved with the project. However, he said he has heard about it.
If McKeown decides to pursue his commercial-residential idea, he won’t have to look far for apartment tenants, DePasquale said.
“It would be a really neat opportunity, especially because of the buildings’ proximity to the commerce center,” DePasquale said. He was referring to the Susquehanna Commerce Center, a
$34 million office complex that is being built a few blocks away and is scheduled to open this fall. “If he (McKeown) invests a lot of money, I could see young professionals, upwardly mobile people, working at the commerce center, living there (at the industrial plaza).”
To tackle his proposed project, McKeown would have to invest more than $1 million, DePasquale estimated. Though supportive of the plan, the financially strapped city would not likely have any money to offer McKeown, DePasquale said. The city raised property taxes by 17 percent this year, and some city council members predict another tax hike next year. McKeown could not be reached for comment. Lohmann of Buchart-Horn said his client does not want to talk to reporters.
DePasquale said he has heard a bit about McKeown. “I understand Simon is shrewd, has really deep pockets and forks over lots of money to do urban redevelopment,” DePasquale said.
One potential challenge to McKeown’s proposal is the lack of parking at the site he is considering buying, DePasquale said. The small parking lot there would not be large enough to accommodate the anticipated restaurant patrons, he said. One possible answer to that problem is the large parking lot that serves the other tenants at the industrial plaza.
In May 1993, Buchart-Horn agreed to become the anchor tenant at the industrial plaza, said Kevin Hodge, senior manager of development for the York County Economic Development Corp. That contract also gave the firm an option to buy the four buildings and the adjacent lot from the development corporation, which was then known as the York County Industrial Development Corp., he added.
A collection of blighted manufacturing and office buildings, the industrial plaza underwent a $6 million renovation, primarily between 1993 and 1995, Hodge said. Buchart-Horn moved into its newly refurbished, 56,200-square-foot headquarters in November 1995, he said. The company paid $1 for the neighboring properties three years later, he said.
Darrell Auterson, president of the York County Economic Development Corp., said he has heard of McKeown but is unfamiliar with his proposal. The YCEDC, which helps businesses get money for economic development projects, has not been approached by anyone involved with McKeown’s project for financial help. The YCEDC would be willing to discuss the matter, though, Auterson said.