A weekend fire has halted $14 million plans to revitalize the last piece of the once-thriving Reading Outlets on North Eighth Street in the city.
Shuman Development Group of Berks County in May disclosed plans to redevelop the six-floor building by the end of the year. But the blaze ripped through the building at the corner of Eighth and Oley streets in Reading, causing a delay in redevelopment.
“This building was once an anchor of the community and was on its way to being one again,” Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer said this morning. “This is really going to be a difficult time. While we believe it will not be a total loss, the damage done to the building will set back the progress being made by Shuman Development.”
At 2:52 a.m. Saturday, 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, according to the report.
No injuries were reported, according to the emergency call history.
Alan Shuman, owner of Shuman Development Group, has a commercial and residential plan for the building’s 120,000-square-foot property, partially funded through the New Markets Tax Credit – tax incentives that subsidize efforts to spur revitalization of low-income and impoverished communities.
“Almost a decade of my life is invested in this,” Shuman said this afternoon. “It was going great; there was a lot of interest in it and it was looking like a huge homerun of a project.”
Shuman’s plans for the 42,000 square feet of commercial space in the building include a child care center, urgent care facility and farmers’ market. The top four floors are becoming 69 market-rate apartments, with two of the floors near completion. Shuman said the company was preparing to show the finished apartments next week.
At about 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. Friday night, Shuman said, the building’s on-duty security guard reported someone trying to break in the building. The building has been shut down while federal investigators determine the cause of the blaze, Shuman said.
Shuman Development Group has already redeveloped, sold and leased more than 2 million square feet of commercial property in downtown Reading in the last 10 years.
Shuman’s group bought 10 buildings in the outlet district since 2006, totaling about 640,000 square feet, and has built a grocery store in the district.
The Reading Outlets project is anticipated to bring nearly 60 construction jobs and 90 or more permanent jobs, but now those likely will be on hold, while Shuman waits for the insurance company to determine if the building is salvageable and if the project can continue.
“I deeply appreciate our Reading firefighters for all their hard work fighting this huge fire,” Spencer said. “In addition, we are grateful to the surrounding fire departments and companies that not only responded to the fire in this beautiful, old building, but also to the additional calls being received during this incident.”