Cumberland County has been the fastest-growing county in the commonwealth, but officials are concerned there may not be enough available land or workers to support long-term growth.
So the county has decided to focus on smaller redevelopment projects that fill in gaps and rehabilitate underused, vacant and brownfield sites that private developers shy away from due to heavy upfront remediation costs.
The county commissioners on Monday voted to approve a new CAEDC affiliate, Real Estate Collaborative LLC. Known as REC, it will be guided by a five-member board and focus on buying and selling older industrial, commercial and public building sites. Ideally, these would be 15,000- to 30,000-square-foot buildings that have sat vacant for many months, even years.
After acquiring properties, the Real Estate Collaborative will look to clean up those sites, likely by demolishing existing structures, and market new pad-ready properties to developers for future construction.
“We’re trying to reduce the risk for private developers,” Jonathan Bowser, CEO of the Cumberland Area Economic Development Corp., said. “Infill development is key. How do we create with less available land for development?”
The Cumberland County Housing and Redevelopment Authorities will be a strategic partner, with new director Tim Whelan serving on the REC’s board.
CAEDC has committed to $150,000 over three years to get the REC started. The plan is to leverage those dollars to access other local, state and federal economic development programs, Bowser said.
The REC board will likely begin meeting by the end of September or early October once members are approved. Three members will be from the CAEDC board and one will be an at-large member.
CAEDC officials are already in the process of negotiating with owners of several sites. Bowser declined to name specific properties, but said there are many spread across the county. His staff has a handful of prospects right now.
Urban redevelopment will likely be a focus for the REC. Vacant public buildings such as the Lemoyne Middle School also fit the target list for the REC.
“One piece is redevelopment,” Bowser said. “Another element, especially with us being a tourism agency, is identifying what assets we don’t have here that we’re ripe for.”
He cited potential sports complexes and more meeting spaces as examples.
Any profits realized through the resale of REC properties will be reinvested back into the REC for future projects.
“This gives us the opportunity to kind of shape economic development,” Bowser said. “It’s really shaping the future of the agency.”