The former Wilbur Chocolate factory in downtown Lititz appears destined for redevelopment under a new owner.
Lancaster-based Oak Tree Development Group has released preliminary plans for a mixed-use project that would incorporate the old chocolate factory and include construction of five new buildings, according to a report this morning by The Lititz Record Express.
Cargill Inc. announced the closure of the Wilbur factory in the fall of 2015. The plant closed in early 2016 and the property was put up for bid.
The publication said Oak Tree plans to renovate the existing building at 47 N. Broad St. and add upscale, loft-style apartments, a 70-room boutique hotel, sit-down bistro restaurant and small retail shops.
The plans also include two new luxury garden apartment buildings and a pair of condominium-style structures for 55-plus living with the ability to affiliate with continued care at Pleasant View Retirement Community, the story said.
Oak Tree is expected to submit plans to the borough in the next 60 days, according to the paper. The approval process could take until the end of the year.
Oak Tree officials were not immediately available for comment on the proposal.
Lisa Riggs, president of the Economic Development Company of Lancaster County, told the Business Journal she believes the early plan sends a “positive signal” not just for Lititz Borough but the whole northern region of the county.
“It’s a show of confidence in the core of the downtown,” she said. “That has positive ripple effects through the whole community.”
It’s unclear yet how much Oak Tree may be looking to spend on the redevelopment project. But it’s guaranteed to be a “significant investment,” Riggs noted.
The EDC is not currently involved in the project, but Riggs said the organization would love to support the developer if it is planning to pursue economic-development financing.
“This is a big change for that community,” she added. “Having this major site in local control, it’s a huge intangible difference. I think we all have good confidence they will get plans done.”
Last October, the Wilbur Chocolate Factory store and museum opened across the street from its former home in the factory.
“I’m glad there will be a new use there,” said Cory Van Brookhoven, a borough council member and president of the Lititz Historical Foundation.
The redevelopment plan is better than the alternative of demolishing everything or watching the property sit idle, he said. However, he also said he understands the community concerns about the project, including the traffic the new uses might create and questions of whether that area needs more 55-plus housing.
Other community concerns on social media have been about the future of Little League fields in Lititz and how the development will impact the Fourth of July fireworks.
“I think things will work out,” he said. “I know there is a lot of uncertainty and people up in arms. Lititz always finds a way to make it work.”