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Two vacant properties in Reading to be redeveloped

Two dilapidated properties that have been sitting empty for years are finally set to be redeveloped thanks to a public-private partnership.

At its meeting Thursday evening, the Reading Redevelopment Authority board authorized an agreement with Philadelphia-based Spak Group to redevelop 301 Washington St. and 124-126 N. Fourth St.

“We are incredibly excited about the opportunity to be able to partner with the redevelopment authority to rehabilitate and rediscover what two of the buildings in your portfolio can not only do for the city but for the residents,” said Ryan Spak, principal and founder of Spak Group. “What excites me more about this is, this partnership goes much further and beyond any partnership we’ve done before with a public agency. That to me is setting a precedent the commonwealth should look at.”

The authority’s and Spak’s plan for the two properties is to rehabilitate the entire structures to the current building code and to be used as a mix-use of residential and commercial space.

The Washington Street property would have at least one commercial space with off-street parking.

The property on North Fourth Street would be entirely residential.

The facades of both buildings would be saved and restored.

Board Chairman Ernie Schlegel was excited about the new partnership.

“Each of us is carving a stone, erecting a column, or cutting a piece of stained glass in the construction of something much bigger than ourselves,” he said, quoting Adrienne Clarkson, a former Canadian politician. “By us passing this here today, it is a culmination of months of negotiations and it’s going to put together two properties that have been dormant for years.”

Before the board voted on Spak’s proposal, Spak gave a presentation on what the company does.

“The idea is to rehabilitate, reposition, revitalize highly distressed property,” he said. “Washington Street and Fourth Street both represent what we have been doing for a very long time now.”

Spak also promised not to be an absentee landlord and said he will open a management office in Reading.

“We have seen and heard what has become a problem of out-of-town landlords,” Spak said. “We will put staff on the ground in Reading. We don’t plan on doing this and then staying in Philadelphia. I see each one of these projects as each of their own economic machines.”

All of the buildings Spak rehabilitates have inclusive housing and community involvement, he said.

“Right now we are building a 60,000 square foot complex in two buildings and every month there is a community meeting whether there is new information or not,” Spak said. “It allows the community to give us feedback and for us to share information with them.”

His group purchased 501 S. 52nd St. in Philadelphia off Craigslist that was fire and water damaged. The building was turned into an eight-unit apartment building with a restaurant on the first floor, Spak said.

“It is now an award-winning building,” Spak said. “It won three historic preservation awards in the city of Philadelphia.”

The authority board thought it found a developer for 301 Washington St. at the end of 2020 when it entered into a sales agreement with the Scharf Group.

The authority board accepted a $61,000 bid from Scharf Group of New York to buy 301 Washington St. at its November meeting.

David Hasenfeld of the Scharf Group at the time said his group also bought 311 and 315 Washington St. and would combine those properties with 301 Washington St. to build 15 three-story town houses.

Each would have three bedrooms, 2½ bathrooms and about 1,800 square feet of living space. The project was supposed to start in December but never did.

A Scharf Group subsidiary, Madison 2020 LLC, is in the process of redeveloping the Madison Building at 400 Washington St. and has also purchased the Reading Eagle building at 345 Penn St.

The Washington Street building was formerly a dairy founded in 1901 by Jacob C. Ziegler as the Milk Products Co. The dairy laid claim to being the first in Reading to pasteurize, laboratory test and bottle milk.

Much of the dairy’s modernization took place after 1920 when Jacob Ziegler’s son Willard E. Ziegler replaced his father as president. Under Willard Ziegler’s direction, the dairy earned a reputation as a model facility and one of the most innovative and modern in the state.

Ziegler’s was absorbed in the mid-1950s by Clover Farms Dairy in Muhlenberg Township.

Source: Berkshire mont

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