"A game-changer for the anthracite region": Plans, status outlined for Downtown Shenandoah innovation center
By Kaylee Lindenmuth
SHENANDOAH - Roughly 100 northern Schuylkill residents came out to a town hall meeting at Shenandoah Valley High School's auditorium outlining the plans and status of an innovation center planned for the former site of Davison's Furniture and Thunder Road.
Downtown Shenandoah, Inc. is at the forefront of the project, which would construct a four-level innovation and event center in the 100 block of North Main Street in a lot left vacant after fires destroyed the former Davison's Furniture around 2006 and Thunder Road first in that fire, and in another in 2012.
DSI officials, as well as the architects from Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects, York, York County, and from the Pennsylvania Downtown Center outlined the plans for the project, and where it stands today in terms of progress.
Bill Fontana, Executive Director of the PDC was first to speak, after a short introduction by DSI President Karen Kenderdine.
"It's not the kind of project we normally see in a smaller, more rural, old manufacturing/extractive industry kind of community, and we said there's a lot of work to do" said Fontana. "For the last year and six months, we have embarked on what we call a conceptual design phase."
Fontana noted that the presentation would outline the work of that phase and the work ahead.
"What we're going to present to you is the sort-of Taj Mahal version of what might go onto this site," said Fontana. "This is an extremely ambitious project. It has a significant price tag associated with it. There are lots of funding sources that will have to be put together for this to become a reality, and it will not happen without the participation of this community, and by that I don't mean simply the borough of Shenandoah. I mean the northern Schuylkill County region."
"But, if this comes to fruition -- when this comes to fruition -- this could be a game-changer for the anthracite region," Fontana continued, before introducing architect Frank Dittenhafer to outline the building plans.
Dittenhafer spoke about research the architects did prior to designing the building, both in visiting similar sites across the state, and researching the history of the Shenandoah area.
"For us, it was very interesting to look at your history. The anthracite coal boom, and the way the town grew when it was established in the mid 19th century and grew and flourished into the early 20th century, for those of us who don't know a lot about Shenandoah's history, it was amazing, and it's something you should be very proud of, and we think it does sort-of-relate to this next chapter," said Dittenhafer. "Hopefully, this is a game-changer that really captures the heritage and the history, and moves on, though, to a very exciting future."
According to the slideshow presented by Dittenhafer, the facility is designed "to provide a flexible environment for residents and students from the Greater Shenandoah region to collaborate and innovate," and also "provide a space for those interested in starting a business, for local/regional companies interested in holding a large event, or those who need to simply have access to a computer."
Dittenhafer outlined the plan for the building, which would have a lower level, beneath Main Street but level with Market Street, featuring light manufacturing space, presentation space, storage, and a small warehouse. Fronting Market Street would be parking and a loading dock.
The main floor, level with Main Street, would have a new office for Downtown Shenandoah Inc, a coffee shop, retail incubator, co-working space, a community area, and an outdoor common area, or "mews."
The second floor would feature event space with a capacity of 128 people, offices and a classroom for Penn State Schuylkill, and a certified commercial kitchen.
The third, or top, floor would have a business incubator, and artistic maker space, among its offerings, as well as an outdoor deck.
"People are going to be in this building making things, working on things, and learning some of the trades and tools and such that will take them wherever they want to be," said Dittenhafer.
A freight elevator and passenger elevator would connect all four levels.
A central atrium would connect all four flours of the building as well.
"An intertwined stair and presentation space create a vertical void within the coor that visually connects the program elements on all levels of the building and assists with the ease of wayfinding," reads the slideshow presented. "The circulation space formed around the stair will serve as a valuable meeting place and promote interaction amongst the building's users. The atrium will also act as a lightwell that provides each floor level with maximum natural day-lighting."
VIDEO COURTESY / Downtown Shenandoah, Inc. - A 3D visualization of the planned Downtown Shenandoah Innovation and Event Center.
Murphy and Dittenhafer architect Patrick Ness then showed the crowd a 3D visualization/animation of the planned building.
Following the architects' presentation, Fontana spoke of the costs, funding sources, and demographics of the region.
As it is planned, the center would cost $11,422,417 to construct, according to the presentation.
Fontana identified five different funding sources for the project, the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, the Keystone Communities Program, the US Department of Agriculture, the Appalachian Regional Commission, and Private Sector Financing.
According to Fontana, the project is on the list for the Redevelopment Assistance program for $7,500,000, though it's not guaranteed the project will receive that amount.
Fontana also noted that the project would not be a burden on the borough, and would be funded through grants and other sources, not local taxpayer money.
Fontana also noted the demographics and market the facility would target, specifically those who live within a 45 minute drive from Shenandoah. He also noted the upward trend in the amount of coworking spaces in the world since 2007.
At the conclusion of the presentation, Fontana fielded questions, one of which from Daniel Salvadore asked who would the property be deeded to, to which Fontana noted it would be DSI. Salvadore, who serves as Shenandoah Valley School Board President, asked if the facility would be non-profit or for-profit, which Fontana said that the recommendation is it be operated for-profit.
Another community member brought up parking concerns, with the possibility of having at least 128 people in the building at one time, to which Kenderdine noted that DSI is looking into the possibility of constructing a parking lot downtown.
Moving forward, Fontana noted the next steps would be to finalize a formal feasibility report, meet with the Department of Community and Economic Development, prepare and submit grant applications, craft an "entrepreneurial ecosystem," and start work on an operations business plan.
Fontana's presentation defined the "7 Principles for Building Entrepreneurial Eco-Systems" as: