EASTON, Pa. — Officials for the Borough of Wilson pleaded with Northampton County Council on Thursday to approve a tax break for the redevelopment of the Dixie Cup building and said characterizing the project as a warehouse was not not exact.
Calling anything a warehouse or a distribution center isn’t a good argument when many Lehigh Valley residents often express concerns about tall buildings and big trucks, but it’s hard to dispute the source of the terminology. . It all started with the developer.
Nick Tsapatsaris surprised County Council and Executive Lamont McClure at a May 5 meeting with his proposal for a “last mile logistics facility.” The New Jersey-based developer has reached an agreement to purchase the Dixie Cup building.
The Council advanced the proposed tax relief on Thursday for consideration on August 4. It is routine and does not indicate support or opposition. The tax cut requires two votes and at least two meetings. McClure said he would veto any tax relief for the project.
The building has been little used since 1983 and mostly vacant for at least a decade. Even with a partial 10-year property tax break, Wilson officials see hope in the proposal, and they don’t see a traditional warehouse.
“It’s not primarily a warehouse,” Wilson Councilman Justin Woodring told the county council during its meeting. The proposal would provide space for many tenants and different types of jobs.
Woodring said the building could require $80 million to $100 million in work. Tsapatsaris said that without the LERTA – Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance – pause, the project is not financially feasible.
Borough Council President John Burke agreed the goal was not to set up just a warehouse. Burke also noted that the building has seen little use since its own date of birth, 1983. The redevelopment proposal is permitted by the borough’s zoning code.
The building is a mess, needing a roof, new elevators and windows. This dire valuation was used as a selling point for LERTA by Joseph Reibman, representative of the ownership group that struck a deal to sell the old Dixie Cup.
“What does the (county) council want to see (over there)?” asked Wilson Mayor Donald Barrett. He said housing, proposed for the site years ago, would put a strain on Wilson Schools. He said the district takes pride in the small class sizes and the quality of education.
The dilapidated building is a burden on the borough, Barrett said, noting the withering state of the huge mug on top.
“As this cup has deteriorated, my city has deteriorated,” the mayor said. He acknowledged concerns about increased traffic near Wilson and Easton area high schools, but said there was more traffic when big businesses such as Mack Printing and Maier’s Bakery were operating. .
A Wilson resident spoke out against the plan.
“It would benefit the property at the expense of the region,” Armando Moritz-Chapelliquen said. He said the property could be a more desirable development. The building is just off 25th Street, an area already plagued by congestion.
Wilson Borough Council and the Wilson Area School District have already unanimously approved LERTA tax breaks for the proposal, but Tsapatsaris said earlier county approval was essential.
It goes beyond property taxes. The county has another cudgel, the power to set property values. Reappraising the property at a higher value could negate the benefits of LERTA.
After the public was heard on the Dixie Cup plan, no commissioner (board members are known as commissioners) spoke on the matter. Commissioners John Cusick and John Brown agreed to sponsor the LERTA ordinance for the Dixie Cup, allowing it to proceed.
Council Vice Chairman Kerry Myers waved the gavel because Chair Lori Vargo Heffner closed the discussion and said there would be a public hearing and possible vote at the August 4 meeting.
McClure has repeatedly said he would veto a tax break that would force Northampton County taxpayers to subsidize a warehouse. The council can pass an ordinance with five votes from its nine members. Overriding a veto requires six votes.