Pennsylvania American Water to buy Butler wastewater system for $231.5M

Hershey-based Pennsylvania American Water, a subsidiary of American Water, has signed an agreement with the Butler Area Sewer Authority to purchase its wastewater system for $231.5 million.

The system serves nearly 15,000 customers over 32.5 square miles, including the City of Butler; Butler and Center townships; East Butler borough; parts of Connoquenessing borough and Summit and Oakland townships; and a small portion of Penn Township.

Pennsylvania American Water already provides drinking water to approximately 19,500 customers in the region.

As part of the agreement, the utility will offer jobs to all of Butler Area Sewer Authority’s employees; maintain the existing operations center for at least 10 years; take over the authority’s planned capital improvement projects utilizing qualified Butler-area contractors; and adopt the authority’s rates at closing with a minimum 1-year rate freeze.

Pennsylvania American Water will make necessary treatment and collection system upgrades to improve the wastewater system, expected to total more than $75 million.

Once approvals from regulators are received, the transaction is expected to close by the end of next year.

“We are pleased that BASA and other community leaders recognized the value we provide to our water customers and are entrusting us with the future ownership of their wastewater system,” Pennsylvania American Water President Mike Doran said in a release. “… Pennsylvania American Water is well positioned to step in and assume responsibility for the community’s wastewater needs by using the existing expertise of current employees, leveraged by the resources we can provide as the commonwealth’s largest water and wastewater utility.”

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Columbia redevelopment site takes big step forward, boosted by millions in state funding

McGinness Airport
McGinness Airport, the planned home of McGinness Innovation Park in Columbia. PHOTO/PROVIDED

McGinness Innovation Park, a major project in Columbia borough that’s been on the drawing board for years, is moving full speed ahead, thanks to an infusion of state funds.

The Economic Development Company of Lancaster County was awarded a grant of nearly $3.4 million and a loan of more $5 million for the 58-acre site – former home to McGinness Airport – by the Commonwealth Financing Agency, through the Pennsylvania Business in Our Sites program.

DR1Group, a drone business, has been lined up as the anchor tenant. EDC is partnering with the borough on the initiative.

Not only will McGinness Innovation Park be situated on the last large tract of developable land in Columbia, it’s pretty much the largest opportunity for a redevelopment project in any Lancaster County borough, said John Biemiller, EDC’s director of business retention and expansion.

It’s been vacant for a while, after the airport shut down, and has been a target site for the EDC since at least 2017, he said.

There are some challenges that come with the property, Biemiller said. The site, off Manor Street south of Columbia Borough Fire Department, “is a little bit off beaten path in terms of transportation,” and its being old airport creates terrain issues.

A lot of site work is involved, he said, and any redevelopment “is not economically feasible without grants.”

Biemiller said the borough is taking the leadership role. State Sen. Ryan Aument has been very supportive as well.

The $5 million loan, secured with “very attractive terms,” will be repaid by lot sales, he said.

Preliminarily, the plan is for eight lots ranging from 1.75 acres to almost 16 acres, Biemiller said.

About 38 acres of McGinness Innovation Park is the developable portion, with an acre being acquired for access. Close to 18 acres of the rest will be turned into a conservation-recreation area.

A release from Aument said the almost $8.4 million in state funds will be used for engineering, permitting, remediation, excavation, stormwater facilities, sidewalks and streets, water/sewer installation, and landscaping.

“This is an exciting opportunity for Lancaster County that wouldn’t have been possible without the (Commonwealth Financing Authority) grant and loan,” which is the second largest awarded in Pennsylvania this cycle, he said in the statement.

The state-of-the-art business/technology park will generate more than 110 jobs, Aument added.

Because they’re space limited, cities and boroughs have to rely on redevelopment as an economic engine, Biemiller said, and this project complements what’s happening elsewhere in Columbia, including the mixed-use project on Locust Street.

He said Mark Stivers, borough manager, has been huge in helping the McGinness Innovation Park move forward.

Named for one of Columbia’s most famous residents

McGinness Innovation Park, a major project in Columbia borough that’s been on the drawing board for years, is moving full speed ahead, PHOTO/PROVIDED

Getting the millions from the state is a tremendous boost, Stivers said. “You never know till you apply.”

Like Biemiller, he said the grant makes the cost more manageable, while the $5 million-plus loan will close at the end of the year.

The borough purchased the property in August 2021 for $1.5 million and received a pre-project grant of $1 million from the Department of Community and Economic Development for early site preparation and infrastructure work.

A $3 million grant from the Redevelopment Capital Assistance Program is in the works, too, Stivers said.

In 2017, Columbia came close to buying the tract but backed out because there was not a definite plan on how it would be redeveloped, he said.

McGinness Innovation Park is named for the late George C. McGinness, who started to build an airport next to his Columbia home after he graduated from college in the 1930s. That process was completed following his service in the Navy during World War II.

He also taught physical education and coached the soccer, track, football, golf and swimming teams at Franklin & Marshall College. The swimming pool in F&M’s Kunkel Aquatic Center is named for McGinness, who was inducted into the college’s sports hall of fame as a coach.

McGinness served for decades on Columbia Borough Council as well. He died in 2011 at the age of 96, and the airport has not been operational for more than eight years.

Stivers said the site currently includes two old airport runways, a family homestead, and cornfields tended by a local farmer.

The open space that will be dedicated to conservation and recreation is the southern part, along Strickler Run, he said. “It’s going be awesome.”

There will be walking trails and a small playground, Stivers said. “We need an active, open space area for kids.”

The area will resemble the trail system at Greenfield Industrial Park, where people can walk and relax, he said.

DR1Group, which has said it hopes to be operating on the site in two years, is the first tenant for the developable portion and will occupy about 15.8 acres, Stivers said.

An additional benefit is that DR1Group will create an opportunity for Columbia High School students get into the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) workforce, he said.

“That’s important,” said Stivers, who’s a firm believer that college is not a prerequisite for a good-paying job.

Ideally, the borough would like drone-related enterprises to fill out the other lots, he said, but other businesses are welcome, too.

Eventually, when McGinness Innovation Park is well-established, Columbia would like to sell it, Stivers said.

The overall goal, he said, is “to get this land producing in terms of jobs and the tax base.”

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Columbia Borough receives $1 million state grant for redevelopment of former airport 

Columbia Borough has received $1 million in grant funding to begin early site preparation and infrastructure work on a former airport property the borough purchased in August. 

The borough announced this summer that it had purchased the 58-acre former McGinness airport property with the intention of redeveloping the space to attract STEM-oriented industries and advanced manufacturing companies. 

The project is part of a greater strategy by the borough to bring additional funding into Columbia without increasing millage rates for current residents. The future “innovation and technology campus” would also bring new residents into the borough with highly skilled jobs, the borough wrote in a release on Monday. 

The $1 million in grant funds given to the borough by the state Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) will help the borough pay for engineering and site plans, including initial costs to get utilities on site and prepare for access roads. The money will also be used to support demolition of any remaining airport structures. 

“This is another key step in our early redevelopment efforts and preparing the property for shovel-ready sites for future tenants and driving new tax revenue into the borough,” said Heather Zink, Columbia Borough Council president. 

The McGinness property is one of several projects meant to stimulate the borough’s economy and bring in new residents. Earlier this month, Lancaster developer Eberly Myers broke ground on a 33-unit multifamily apartment building, the first of its kind in years. 

“We might look back and say this was part of the beginning of Columbia’s renaissance,” said Bill Kloidt, executive director of the Columbia Economic Development Corporation. “The McGinness property will create an abundance of new jobs and these employees will need to eat lunch and the employers will need to entertain clients over lunch, and hopefully they will all come into our downtown to satisfy these needs.” 

Columbia Borough Council to purchase former airport for $1.5 million

Columbia Borough Council approved the purchase of a 56-acre former airport for approximately $1.5 million. It now intends to redevelop the parcel and ultimately increase the borough’s tax revenue.

The 56-acre McGinness property, the borough’s largest parcel, has sat vacant and minimally used for a very long time, said Heather Zink, borough council president. For the past year the borough has been building a case to buy the property, speaking to interested businesses, performing due diligence on the property and selling the idea to residents.

Council approved the purchase on a 5-2 vote ad will be moving forward with the buy this week. It plans to prepare the land for commercial use and bring in businesses to lease space on the property with a long-term goal of selling the property to a private management company.

If the project generates interested, income taxes from new residents employed by those businesses it would add to the borough’s tax base, said Zink.

“Saying that ‘we acquired land and let’s sit on it and think about it’ isn’t an option for us,” said Mark Stivers, the Lancaster County borough’s manager. “We need to work diligently to realize the positive fiscal benefits of this purchase.”

The property already has an interested party that could use as much as a third of the parcel.

Argos Unmanned Aerial Solutions, an aviation consultant in Lititz, is eyeing the former airport as a prime location for a new training and education facility for unmanned aircraft technology under a new company.

Argos is still in talks with the borough, but such a facility would act as an anchor for the project and could bring additional businesses onto the property. If its plans with Argos are realized, the borough think other businesses in the unmanned-aircraft space could be interested in opening locations on the property to complement the facility.

Along with Argos, there are at least two other Lancaster County businesses interested in opening locations on the property once it’s developed, according to Zink.

“Because we’ve had so many varied groups that have expressed interest in being there,” Zink said. “It was important to convey that this was more of a vote for confidence that we can make this project work than anything else.”

The borough is working with area economic development organizations to see the project to completion, including the Economic Development Company of Lancaster, the Columbia Economic Development Corp. and the Lancaster County Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

“This team comes together when there is a project with a significant regional impact,” said Stivers. “If we were doing something smaller without a regional impact you may get one of them but because of the size and impact of this as a state related issue and a regional issue dealing with job creation, that’s when they get involved.”

During the meeting, the council also approved to purchase an acre of land across the street from the property at 951 Plane Street for $142,000. The flat, vacant parcel will be used as an entrance to the McGinnis property and could also be partly used to enhance the neighborhood with green space, said Stivers.