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Opening of Reading apartments hailed as catalyst for city’s revival

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About half of the 69 luxury apartments have been leased at Big Mill Apartments at Seventh and Oley streets in Reading. The apartments are in the Big Mill Outlet Building, which also will include space for businesses.
About half of the 69 luxury apartments have been leased at Big Mill Apartments at Seventh and Oley streets in Reading. The apartments are in the Big Mill Outlet Building, which also will include space for businesses. - (Photo / )

After four years and a devastating fire that nearly derailed the redevelopment of the Big Mill Outlet Building in Reading, officials cut a red ribbon at ceremony Monday afternoon to recognize the largely completed upscale Big Mill Apartments, part of the $23 million residential and commercial project.

Alan Shuman, president and broker of record of Shuman Development Group, who bought the former retail outlet building for about $335,000 in 2006, was lauded by city and economic development officials for his vision and commitment to revitalizing Reading.

The Big Mill Outlet Building, at 702 N. Eighth St., will be a “catalyst for more things to come,” said Jonathan Encarnacion, board member of Community First Fund, which provided $6.5 million in federal tax credits to the project. Commonwealth Cornerstone Group provided $5.5 million in tax credits.

Encarnacion said the Big Mill Outlet Building was a prime example of collaboration between private and public funding sources to obtain much-needed financing.

Daniel Betancourt, president and chief executive officer of Community First Fund, said his organization knew it wanted to provide funding for the Big Mill Outlet Building after reviewing Shuman’s plan and touring the impoverished neighborhood that surrounds it in northeast Reading.

“We saw the blight,” Betancourt said, “and we wanted to be involved in a project that would be a catalyst for redevelopment.”

Despite higher construction costs in urban areas, he said, the fund invested in the project because it believed in the merits of Shuman’s plan and that it will spur further redevelopment in the area.

Shuman expects the project to generate more than $310,000 in annual local tax revenue when the building is fully occupied.

About half of the 69 luxury apartments, which opened about three weeks ago, have been leased. The mostly two-bedroom apartments average about 970 square feet each and rent for $750-$800 a month, the market rate.

The six-story 122,000 square-foot building at the corner of Seventh and Oley streets has about 42,000 square feet of commercial space. Russo’s Pizzeria and Italian Restaurant plans to open in the building in July, its second location in Reading. A pediatric clinic and farmers market are tentatively planned, although leases have not been signed, Shuman said.

Shuman declined to give the name of the pediatric clinic, saying it has facilities along the East Coast. The building has two large courtyards, 1,170 windows with sweeping, panoramic views of the area’s hillside and iconic Pagoda. The clinic’s design includes a playground in the building’s north courtyard. Commercial spaces and exterior detail work are expected to be completed this summer.

Built in 1904 as the Curtis and Jones shoe factory, the Big Mill Outlet Building is on the National Register of Historic Places, a classification that helped Shuman obtain historic tax credits.

The shoe factory used to manufacture patent leather shoes for the Girl Scouts of America for decades until the 1960s. In 1991, the building became a retail outlet center that included Pier 1, Levi’s and Corning until a partial roof collapse 10 years later. The building was vacated and abandoned by its owner, a New York investment group.

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