Penn House Commons — Meridian Development Partners
- Written by: Tom Faunce
- Produced by: Ian Nichols
- Estimated reading time: 4 mins
When Meridian Development Partners (MDP) purchased the La-Z-Boy manufacturing facility in East Buffalo Township, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, its aim was to reposition the property as a master-planned community and build residential, office, retail and recreation space.
There were two significant challenges to transforming this 42 acre former manufacturing plant into a master planned community. One was the lack of infrastructure that presented a significant cost to the redevelopment. The other was limited market that could support an ambitious program. The first issue was exacerbated by the 2008 recession that lowered the value of the potential development and limited funding resources.
MDP addressed these issues by securing support from the local community, state and federal resources to help fund the significant infrastructure work and then created the market was created to build the 42 acre master-planned community known as Penn House Commons.
With MDP’s efforts to transform the area into a vibrant and beneficial part of the community, a 10-acre park and incorporated walking trails have been built to accommodate the wetlands of the area. The former 90,000-square-foot La-Z-Boy warehouse building is being converted into the Miller Center for Recreation and Wellness, which will feature an indoor field, multipurpose hard-surface courts, activity rooms and areas for exercise and gymnastics, as well as nutrition and other health- and wellness-related services.
Penn House Commons is conveniently located near Lewisburg’s historic 19th century downtown, which offers a vibrant dining and nightlife scene, as well as several museums, art galleries and more than 40 retail shops offering an array of merchandise. It is also located strategically across from Bucknell University and is near the Evangelical Hospital that is participating in the health and wellness programs at the Miller Center for Recreation and Wellness.
Another factor that has led to the site’s appeal is its location in one of the best school districts in the state. The Lewisburg Area School District was ranked 16th out of 498 Pennsylvania school districts by the Philadelphia Business Journal.
MDP has managed the process of developing the community and with a condominium program in place, the company is able to sell sections of the property to multiple clients to develop the site for various uses. The retail component is anchored by Giant Food Stores and CVS Pharmacy, which were built by J.C. Bar Developers. One hundred forty -four residential units have been approved on 9 acres of the northwest portion of Penn House Commons along 15th Street and St. Mary Street.
Sustainability efforts for Penn House Commons include the addressing of wetlands and flooding mitigation. MDP was able to receive a review and approval from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to make the property a usable site and address conditions and compliance issues required by DEEP. Although MDP has not pursued any LEED certification for Penn House Commons, the company is pursuing certain health and wellness certifications due to the development’s building a community park with walking paths adjacent to the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail and Miller Center for Recreation and Wellness.
A passion for rescuing properties
As the master developer of Penn House Commons, MDP is a real estate development and private equity firm that specializes in the acquisition and redevelopment of underutilized properties including former manufacturing facilities. The company maintains a focus on value-added properties that elevate the surrounding environment and community.
Howard Schlesinger, managing partner for MDP, says that one of biggest challenges the company has faced in the development of Penn Commons has been the recession. With the projections of value decimated by the economic downturn, MDP was forced to revisit its program of redeveloping the property in order to achieve what it set out to do, despite the value of the land dropping significantly. “It took a few years to identify, secure and ultimately use the funds that were allocated from state and federal resources,” says Schlesinger. “Fortunately, we gained enough support to proceed with the development.”
Headquartered in New York City, MDP acquires, develops and invests in communities across the United States. “We established our mission when MDP was established in 2002,” recalls Schlesinger. “That mission is to rescue underutilized properties and transform them into usable and productive properties that benefit the community.”
Schlesinger is a founding principal of MDP and a registered architect with a career devoted to improving the built environment. For more than a quarter century, he has developed extensive expertise in planning, design and project management. Schlesinger founded MDP with Mark C. Rosenberg and Howard A. Weitzman. Before joining Rosenberg, and Weitzman, he was founding principal of Schlesinger, Loffredo Brooks Architects P.C.
Schlesinger’s passion for rescuing communities has never been more present than with the Penn House Commons project. “This project is not just about development,” he says. “It lies in the culture of rescue.” With the amount of effort and energy exerted into rescue projects from numerous parties involved, Penn House Commons represents the cooperation, support, commitment and vision required to overcome challenges and present a beneficial product to the local community.
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