Community participates in study examining possible redevelopment uses for the Wenger Feed Mill

By on May 3, 2017
About 60 people gathered at Ephrata Borough Council's meeting Monday to hear results of the pilot Conceptual Development Program which assessed the redevelopment potential for the Wenger Feed Mill. Photo by Patrick Burns

About 60 people gathered at Ephrata Borough Council’s meeting Monday to hear results of the pilot Conceptual Development Program which assessed the redevelopment potential for the Wenger Feed Mill. Photo by Patrick Burns

There’s no consensus on what the community wishes to make of the former Wenger Feed Mill property in the heart of downtown Ephrata Borough.

However, the possibilities are intriguing, according to the first-of-its-kind study conducted by teams of professional and community members in an intensive, two-day brainstorming initiative sponsored last week by the Lancaster Boroughs Collaborative.

Rick Jackson, landscape architecture at ELA Group, was one of 19 people on teams established to come up with ideas to draw investment and stakeholders in the property, owned by Ephrata National Bank.

Jackson explained to about 60 people gathered at Ephrata Borough Council’s meeting Monday that the initiative — launched in the pilot Conceptual Development Program through the Economic Development Company of Lancaster County — assessed the redevelopment potential for the Wenger Feed Mill.

It may perhaps also become a template for 18 other boroughs in the county looking to for similar ideas on possible ways to breathe new life into old properties.

The Wenger property is broken up into two buildings built separately in 1924 and 1948.

The 1924 building has a basement and three stories while the 1948 section’s basement rests beneath five stories.

The total square footage in both buildings is just over 39,000 square feet, said Don Banzhof, of Warfel Construction.

“The building will need a complete retro fit, all new mechanical electrical plumbing,” he said. “We estimate that the core and shell renovation will be about $5.8 million,” he said.

Other final changes will take the project up to about $7.2 million.

“Looking at it from a development perspective,” Banzhof said the project requires another $2 million in subsidies “to make the project work.”

Jackson explained the study “through the impediments and pathways” to make such a project possible.

“The first thing is to begin a conversation of financial options,” he said. “And that would be a meeting that would include (ENB), the borough, and a number of players that could possibly be involved in this effort to try to really understand if this is truly possible and what’s involved in making it possible.”

Jackson went through a litany of items discussed during the two-day brainstorming between two teams of professionals who interviewed people from the Ephrata community.

Ultimately, it’s up to Ephrata National Bank to decide what happens to the building. Jim Brown, ENB director of facilities, said the bank’s board may decide after its board of directors view the final report submitted by the Conceptual Development Program.

“So how do you get anything done with this building? You just heard there’s a pretty substantial price tag here,” Jackson said. “There will be subsidies. But just to be clear our charge was to come up with a vision for this building.”

He shared some of the 40 potential uses identified from the study. The list included various uses on each of the floors of the properties and the surrounding areas such as the parking lot that starts the Ephrata to Lititz Rail Trail.

Suggestions included family-friendly and rail trail-related uses such as an ice cream shop, kids-play area, science factory, bikes and cross-country ski rentals. Other ideas submitted are office space, a business incubator, and workforce-business resources.

One of the most commonly submitted idea was creating restaurants (with outdoor dining), a brewpub, and a distillery.

Other suggestions included retail, gallery and art exhibit space, event and reception areas with live music, unique small-scale shops, a newsstand and veteran-related venue to tie into the Major Dick Winters Memorial Trail on East Fulton Street.

Perhaps the most interesting suggestion was creating an Uber Air station as a hub for the taxi service’s planned vertical lift, multi-rotor vehicles.

Sounds far-fetched but Uber — which operates in more than 500 cities in 67 nations and generated $4 billion in revenue this year — plans to expand into food delivery and provide more comprehensive and specialized ground travel services for corporate travelers, according to Forbes.

Jackson pointed out that affordable housing is not an option because of the limited space available. However it would be suitable for upscale living units.

The study divided how Ephrata’s strengths and weaknesses may affect potential economic development. Strengths noted in the study stated “Main Street makes a strong first impression with its “downtown aesthetic,” “small town feel” and “walkability” of the area.

Community input — 120 people were interviewed in the study — highlighted Ephrata’s strengths and community amenities such as the Rail Trail, Whistlestop Plaza, its parks, Ephrata Performing Arts Center, Cloister, library, utilities, and a solid, well-maintained infrastructure.

“Also, the borough has resources and is willing to invest in the downtown,” Jackson said.

Resource team member John Biemiller, of the Economic Development Company of Lancaster County, said the Conceptual Development Program is a new approach “to finding a path to redevelopment” and Wenger Feed Mill is “a unique, historic and long-vacant property that has the potential to be a key contributor to downtown Ephrata.”

The pilot program which crammed about 20 volunteers in a two-day 20-hour event, at the Brossman Building April 27-28, brought together professionals from around Lancaster County with backgrounds in real estate development, construction, finance and business development.

Jackson estimated the cost of doing the study without volunteers would be around $90,000.

The study listed a host of weaknesses and challenges facing Ephrata growth.

Perhaps foremost is a negative mindset where locals concede an undesirableness and inability to compete with other communities such as Lititz.

There is also an external negative perception; mis-understanding and lack of appreciation of the Ephrata community, the study found.

Other problem areas detected are generational and cultural divides, a lack of coordinated community support for intangibles, limited options lack of diversity of commercial activity of retail, food, entertainment, nightlife, and social engagement.

Listed challenges in downtown are limited parking; real and/or perceived drug use and unsafe areas; sub-par property management and investment; lack of resources to address community issues; and housing and economic development concerns.

Still, the study suggests redevelopment of the Wenger Feed Mill could serve to alleviate such concerns. It offered these possibilities:

  • Create downtown anchor-catalyst and “vibe,” while honoring the legacy of the Wenger Mill.
  • Mix of uses, primarily focused on economic growth and job creation.
  • Improve the area adjacent to and provide amenities for the Rail Trail.
  • Provide a gathering space for the community.

Patrick Burns is social media editor and a staff writer for The Ephrata Review. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at pburns.eph@lnpnews.com or at 721-4455.

One Comment

  1. Kevin

    May 8, 2017 at 1:12 pm

    Suggestion for the feed mill…
    There are 8 silos. What about a community composting system. Residents can bring their yard and garden waste, deposit the way into the silos, where the waste is periodically ground up and pumped into another silo, eventually creating compost to be used or sold for the community.
    The other suggestions are good too, but actually using the silos shouldn’t require too much retrofitting.

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