Developers still aim for summer start on Erie's Union Square town houses
BY ERICA ERWIN, Erie Times-News
Construction crews are busy replacing sidewalks and upgrading lighting in the Union Square area, part of more than $3 million in planned improvements to the neighborhood.
But work on a much-advertised project in the same area -- a town house development touted as the centerpiece of a new, revitalized Union Square -- has yet to begin.
Tom Hardy of Midtown Partners, the owner-developer of the project, said the group is working to close on a financing deal that would allow it to purchase land from the Erie Redevelopment Authority and start construction on the first phase of the town house project.
Hardy would not discuss details of the deal, except to say it involves more than half a dozen funding sources. He said the firm still hopes to begin construction some time this summer.
"We're getting very close to having a closing on the financing," Hardy said. "We want to be well under way this summer, so we can be under roof before the worst of the Erie weather is upon us. That's pushing us to get started as soon as possible."
The principal owners of Midtown Partners are the same principal owners of Fourth River Development LLC, the Pittsburgh-based firm that is co-developer of Erie's midtown. Principal owners of Fourth River also hold the majority stake in 1401 State Street LLC, the group that is developing the Mercantile Building at 1401 State St.
Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Larry Bossolt said the authority is working on a "redeveloper's agreement" that would establish the terms under which the authority would transfer about three-fifths of an acre to Midtown Partners; what work can be done on the land; the timeline for completion of the project; and the costs associated with infrastructure development and the purchase of the land for the first phase of the project.
"We're hoping this is going to start very soon," Bossolt said. "Hopefully, their financing will come together by the end of July or early August so we can start by the end of July or early August.
"There's a degree of high community expectations here, and I think it's going to finally come together," he said.
The town-house project is part of a larger $55 million development that runs from West 12th to West 14th streets between Peach and State streets and also includes the renovation of Griswold Park and the multimillion-dollar transformation of the Mercantile Building.
The first phase of the town-house project includes construction of seven two-and-a-half-story town houses, three of which will be built on top of a new 1,300-square-foot building that will house a coffee shop. Ultimately, Fourth River plans to build 140 housing units in the area.
The town houses range in price from $170,000 to $259,000, with sizes from 1,700 square feet to 2,600 square feet.
While Midtown Partners works to close on the financing, the separate but related streetscape work in the neighborhood is continuing.
In addition to new sidewalks and decorative lighting, crews will install "bump outs," or curb islands, on State and Peach streets where each intersects with 12th, 13th and 14th streets, and at West 12th and Sassafras streets.
Other improvements include the replacement of traffic signals at the intersections of State Street with 13th and 14th streets and the addition of strips of landscaping between curbs and sidewalks in several spots throughout the project area.
The project area runs along State Street between 12th and 14th streets and on 12th Street between State and Sassafras streets. Crews are also working on Peach Street between 12th and 14th streets, said Jim Morris, a project engineer with the city of Erie.
Erie-based Mayer Brothers Construction Co. is the primary contractor on the project, which is largely funded by a $3.35 million Pennsylvania Community Transportation Initiative, said Kim Green, the city's director of community and economic development.
A $250,000 grant from the state Department of Community and Economic Development and $100,000 in local matching funds paid for planning and design, for a total project cost of $3.7 million, Green said.
Mayor Joe Sinnott said the Union Square project, including renovations to Griswold Plaza and the transformation of the Mercantile Building, have come together to reshape the midtown area. The streetscaping and the eventual addition of the town houses will add to the new picture, he said.
"In essence," he said, "we've created a new neighborhood out of something that was markedly different a few years ago."