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Peanut Crossing developer seeks façade grant

With plans for a mixture of high-end apartments and businesses on the site of a former downtown peanut processing facility, a developer now seeks a façade grant from the city’s Economic Development Authority to help spur investment in the property.

Edwin Gaskin, representing Echelon Resources, outlined plans for the first phase of the development, which calls for the building of 56 apartments on the property at 273 S. Saratoga St. Echelon Resources is a historic tax credit, property redevelopment firm.

However, because the apartments in the first phase of the development are on a less visible part of the 10-acre triangular property, Gaskin wants the EDA to approve $280,000 in façade grants so that work can be done on the exterior of the rest of the site to help spur investment.

The board is expected to vote on the façade grant proposal at its August meeting.

“While we’re going to start with a residential project, we’re really hoping the future phases are more commercial in nature,” Gaskin said.

Gaskin told the EDA board at its July 8 meeting that there are signs of interest in the property, which also borders Wellons Street to the west and the Norfolk Southern Railroad mainline to the north. But he said façade grant money would help improve the property’s image.

Some site work is already underway at the site.

In the first phase of the development, Gaskin plans to invest $6 million. He estimated the four phases of the project to have a total investment of between $15 million and $25 million and said the city could receive a net 10-year direct revenue benefit of around $1.2 million. The apartments would have what Gaskin described as an industrial loft look, using concrete and steel beams as features while including modern amenities.

“It really takes a blighted feature that you can see from the downtown and makes it wonderful,” Gaskin said. “But it also puts active residents living in the area.”

Economic Development Director Kevin Hughes called Gaskin’s development a “real dynamic project and really one that’s very important and can be a really big catalyst for the downtown area, Saratoga area of the city.”

Hughes said the façade grant amounts of $20,000 per building, as a result, would be higher than the $10,000 normally proposed and would cover 14 buildings on the site.

Economic Development Manager Deanna Holt noted that the Downtown Master Plan City Council adopted in June 2018 identified opportunity sites that have the potential for redevelopment. She said part of the analysis behind the opportunity sites highlighted vacant, privately-owned land where buildings were undervalued, making the Peanut Crossing site noteworthy and significant to downtown redevelopment.

“Within the redevelopment of the site, we’ll see an impact to the home values within the greater Saratoga neighborhood, as well as increased foot traffic,” Holt said.

Gaskin outlined work the company has done in other parts of the state, including South Boston, Cape Charles and Fredericksburg. He said their developments attract working professionals ages 25 to 45, but noted that within a quarter-mile of the Peanut Crossing site, residents have a per capita income of just $16,000 per year.

“This is an opportunity site because with one fell swoop, over multiple phases, we could take one site and reposition it and try to have these ripple effects,” Gaskin said.

But because the first phase of the project is going to take place along the railroad tracks and will not be visible from Saratoga or Wellons streets, Gaskin said he is looking to the façade grants to aid in making the site more attractive for commercial businesses.

Part of the façade work Gaskin outlined includes replacing the chain-link fence with an ornamental fence, and painting some of the perimeter buildings and adding landscaping touches.

Gaskin said that, beyond the Phase I buildings, there is 150,000 square feet of other buildings that could go more commercial or more residential. He said that with demolition on the site having begun about a week ago, there has been commercial interest in the property.

“Coming before the EDA, I think this challenge and opportunity is how we position a site to trend more toward a business park long-term, a mixed-use business park, or just apartments,” Gaskin said. “I think this is a unique opportunity in South Suffolk.”

If the EDA board approves the grant money, Gaskin said it would equate to about a 10-to-1 match on what Echelon would invest in the project, versus what the EDA would provide. He said the project will be successful whether the development ends up being mostly apartments, or whether it has a more mixed-use or commercial vibe. If it receives the façade grant money, Gaskin said it would likely help attract commercial tenants to the property.

“Really, all the dollars we would spend from the EDA,” Gaskin said, “would be visible from the site.”