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Cleanup begins in Reading Outlets fire; owner says renovation to take a year

Smoke from the fire rises from the six-story Reading Outlets Center. (Contributed photo)

The early morning hours of Oct. 18 proved to be a true test for Shuman Development Group of Reading after a fire ripped through the six-floor Reading Outlets Center.

The early morning hours of Oct. 18 proved to be a true test for Shuman Development Group of Reading after a fire ripped through the six-floor Reading Outlets Center.

The blaze threatened to destroy the company’s near-completed $14 million renovation of the iconic building.

“Almost a decade of my life is invested in this,” Alan Shuman, owner of Shuman Development Group, said a few days after the fire. “It was going great; there was a lot of interest in it and it was looking like a huge home run of a project.”

But it’s not a strikeout, either. Thanks to insurance, cleanup was set to begin last week and last for a couple of months. Construction is expected to resume in the early summer and finish next fall, Shuman said.

The fire started in the north side of the second floor of the building at the corner of Eighth and Oley streets and has been ruled an arson, Shuman said. Damage is an estimated $12 million.

The building is the last of the 10 that Shuman’s group bought in the outlet district since 2006, totaling about 640,000 square feet. The group has already redeveloped, sold and leased more than 2 million square feet of commercial property in downtown Reading in the last 10 years.

“It is certainly a tremendous credit to Alan’s tenacity and his belief in the city of Reading and Berks County,” said Jon Scott, president and CEO of Greater Reading Economic Partnership. “One can only admire his talent and fortitude in forging ahead under difficult circumstances, and not letting the ubiquitous bad guys get him down.”

It was at 2:52 a.m. on that autumn Saturday when multiple calls were received about the fire, according to the Reading Fire Co. emergency call history. When fire trucks arrived, flames were shooting from several windows and the roof. Within an hour, the fire escalated so much that help was called in from six other municipalities.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives posted a $10,000 reward in an effort to find and prosecute the arsonist(s). And Shuman said he is throwing in $10,000 to double the reward.

“We have brought in the best in the business to handle the investigation to make sure that the people responsible for the destruction are brought to justice …” Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer said.

Jennifer Glose
Reporter Jennifer Glose covers health care, Berks County and other topics. She can be reached at jenniferg@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 111.

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