Fleetwood transformed tragedy into something positive.
“We had a fire on Christmas Eve 2005, it could have been devastating,” said Mayor Tammy Gore.
About 60 fire companies responded to the large fire at the old Tannery site, which was not in use at the time, and the fire was contained. There were no injuries and no other properties were damaged. The only loss was the tannery building.
“We realized this is the only time in the history of Fleetwood where there are 2 acres in the middle of town. How can we turn that tragedy into something really positive for Fleetwood Borough and its residents?” said Gore. “That has been our leading goal since that fire. We have to turn this into something really good for Fleetwood.”
Fleetwood will have a new Town Square at the old Fleetwood Pizza property at 28 W. Main, allowing pedestrian traffic to connect from Main Street to parking at the old Tannery site. Fleetwood Pizza bought and moved into Craig’s Sandwich Shop, and Fleetwood Borough purchased the old pizza shop property.
“It was win-win-win all around, everybody made out the best that they possibly could,” said Gore. “Secondly, there were no local Fleetwood Borough taxes uses for this process whatsoever, it was all funded by the Redevelopment Authority.”
Gore noted that the green space is funded by a grant from a branch of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
“Everyone wanted this,” said Pete Merkel, on the Redevelopment Committee for Fleetwood with Gore. “This is all for the betterment of Fleetwood. It’s just going to take time.”
The old Fleetwood Pizza building on 28 W. Main will be demolished in spring. The land will prepared this summer and construction will begin in late summer, early fall with an anticipated dedication by Thanksgiving 2014.
“I just like everything about our new shop,” said Lisa Hoimes, Fleetwood Pizza chef and wife of Gus Hoimes, co-owner with his brother James.
Lisa said their old shop was in a state of disrepair, and their old equipment was shut down because of a fire. The new shop includes updated, newer equipment and more room to cook.
“It’s like a Christmas present,” said Lisa, who described their first moment holding the keys to their new pizza shop as exciting and surreal. They moved in Dec. 13.
Previously, the Hoimes fought against eminent domain taking their property about five years ago, and they won.
“I probably didn’t show it a lot over the past years of this trying to defend our shop, because that was our only livelihood, but I have immense respect for the Mayor, Pete Merkel, and Fleetwood Borough Council,” said Lisa.
Lisa feels the recent negotiations with Fleetwood Borough went smoothly.
Gore explained that over the 5 year process of the Borough’s redevelopment plan, challenges included that there were several owners of the old tannery site, most current being Fleetwood RE, LLC., an affiliate to Fleetwood Bank, “who is so willing and eager to work with the borough making the Downtown a better place.”
“The other challenge was there was a lot of misinformation throughout the process, and people assuming what was going on, when, in fact, from day one, we wanted this to be an agreeable transition for everybody and it took a long time to get there because we wanted everybody to come out ahead,” said Gore.
“Everybody trusted everybody. Trust is very important,” said Gus Hoimes.
“This was an agreeable transaction for everybody involved,” said Gore.
Gore explained that Craig Weider, former owner of Craig’s Sandwich Shop at 34 W. Main St., was looking to retire. He had put the shop up for sale without success.
“Fleetwood Pizza then decided to purchase Craig’s and the Borough of Fleetwood was allowed to obtain the old Fleetwood Pizza location at 28 W. Main. This was all done through the Berks County Redevelopment Authority,” said Gore.
Gore explained that the about $272,000 project to purchase 28 W. Main and move Fleetwood Pizza to 34 W. Main, just a few doors apart, was funded all by Berks County Redevelopment Authority, which has budgeted funds for redevelopment projects in Berks County.
“Downtown Fleetwood is one of their target locations for redevelopment,” said Gore.
Other redevelopment communities have included West Reading and the City of Reading.
“Fleetwood is very excited to be able to development the land where Fleetwood Pizza was,” said Gore. “This will be a new Town Square. Fleetwood doesn’t really have a Town Square.”
Merkel and Gore hope a Town Square and parking will encourage more people to stop in Fleetwood and shop. Also they hope this will attract more business to Fleetwood, increasing tax base and offering residents more shopping opportunities in town.
The reason Fleetwood officials chose 28 W. Main as the location for the new Town Square is because it is the only stand alone building on the block, all others are attached properties. Also this property is next to an alley, giving them the most width and depth to create the new Town Square, said Gore. Also, Fleetwood officials would like to develop the old tannery site, owned by Fleetwood RE, LLC. A gravel parking lot, open to anyone at anytime, was created in September, using Berks County Redevelopment funds. The Town Square provides the pedestrian path from parking to Main Street.
Other future plans include replacing water lines and burying electric lines while PennDOT conducts its repaving of 662 in Fleetwood.
Previous projects to date include widening Foundry Alley, creating an architectural over lay district to enhance Downtown character, and rezoning of tannery site from industrial to commercial.