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York City's Redevelopment Authority on Wednesday granted the rights to a 4-acre empty space in the city's Northwest Triangle area to a Baltimore-based group that's looking to start with putting in 130 to 150 apartments.

The Time Group was one of four developers to present plans for the currently vacant space to the authority in April. Now it has exclusive rights over the next six months to do the "due diligence" necessary before the project, taking the time to "do their homework" and come up with a feasible project, said Shilvosky Buffaloe, the city's acting director of economic and community development.

At that point, the group has to present a concrete plan for the development — or decide to walk away, as several previous developers interested in this land over the past 12 years have, Buffaloe said. He said a subcommittee made up of RDA members and part of the city economic development team had been studying the four proposals before narrowing it down to two and then ultimately choosing this one. He said all four groups that had brought proposals to the city were qualified and had the capability to follow through with their proposals.

RDA chair David Cross said the Time Group, which is working with the York City-based Murphy & Dittenhafer architecture firm, had been looking at this project for about nine months, so he had more confidence that group would be able to successfully make something happen.

Two phases: He also said he likes the phased approach the group is taking.

Phase I would feature 130 to 150 market-rate one- and two-bedroom apartments costing about $700 to $1,500 a month, project manager Dominic Wiker said after last month's RDA meeting. The four buildings along the west side of the 200 block of North Beaver Street would be about 124,000 square feet, with the 14,000-square-foot first-floor portion of the buildings being used as commercial space for shops or restaurants, he said.

Phase I would cost about $17 million to $19 million, Wiker said, and would be done in a couple of years.

"That in my mind suggests we'll have more development sooner" than some of the other proposals suggested, Cross said.

Phase II, which would focus on the rest of the triangle land behind those buildings toward the Codorus Creek, would likely involve more apartment-style housing units. Last month, Wiker was unwilling to speculate on costs or numbers for Phase II because the plans are so subject to change.

Wiker said his group has done similar projects in Baltimore and other cities, and the leaders were drawn to York City by the forward momentum they saw here.

"It seems like there's this real confluence of developers," he said.

Also pitching their plans to the RDA last month were the Mechanicsburg-based Real Source Developers, the East Berlin-based Aiello's Custom Homes and Tri Corner Homebuilding Solutions, which has offices in Harrisburg and Stewartstown. Tri Corner, which proposed almost 350 apartments, was the other finalist, Buffaloe said.

Interest high: Buffaloe was confident there's enough interest to sustain this number of apartments around the city's core.

"There's a demand that hasn't quite been satisfied in the downtown area," he said. "This is a key indicator to us the market is rebounding."

The triangle area falls within the city's central business district, a 26-block portion around the middle of the city that's under the purview of Downtown Inc, a quasi-governmental hybrid between a city authority meant to revitalize the downtown area and a nonprofit organization with the same goal.

Downtown Inc commissioned an independent "residential market feasibility analysis" that was published in May 2015, finding there was solid demand for rental property around the area and it would continue in coming years. Even accounting for the Color Works project and others that were also at that point in the pipeline, the report concluded there is a demand for an additional 103 rental units by 2018.

Calling the downtown area "an appealing environment that already offers a walkable urban experience," with a good mix of restaurants, shops and entertainment, the report said the area was ready for more residential expansion in the form of rental properties.

The report suggested these rental units around the downtown area would appeal to young professionals, young couples and older people, and could be less appealing to families.

"This is what it's all about," Cross said. "Economic impact."

— Reach Sean Cotter at scotter@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @SPCotterYD.

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