Plans for travel center at Highridge detailed at MAEA roundtable

Christine Lee, Republican & Herald, Pottsville, Pa.
·5 min read

Apr. 29—A travel center with a restaurant, convenience store and truck stop is planned for the Highridge Business Park.

Schuylkill County Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Frank Zukas detailed the plans Tuesday during the virtual Executive Schuylkill Roundtable hosted by the Northeastern Pennsylvania Manufacturers and Employers Association.

Zukas said SEDCO set aside 30 acres at the business park for commercial development off Exit 119 from Interstate 81 at Keystone Boulevard and Highridge Park Road in Cass Township, which will include a 10,000-square-foot convenience store, a truck stop with diesel fueling stations, 115 parking spaces for tractor trailers, and a space for a hotel or other commercial development.

The park is already home to a Country Inn & Suites by Radisson, located just off the interstate in the township.

The property is under contract with Scranton-based ONVO and expected to close in June, Zukas added, and would developed in phases. He said the store would have a sit-down fast food restaurant, with a Burger King franchise being one of the options.

The site already has necessary permits, with the exception of a building permit, and has stormwater systems in place. Zukas said the developer is refining its plans and intends to apply for a building permit with the township and to submit plans to the Cass Township Planning Commission. He said he expects it to be operational next spring.

The business park sits on 2,000 acres along I-81 in Foster, Cass and Butler townships.

Meanwhile, a formal lease has been signed for the buildings at the former Schuylkill Mall site in New Castle Township, which Zukas said will be occupied in the next five to six months. North Point Development of Kansas City, Missouri, is the developer.

"It's a combination of a fulfillment center for electronic, web-based sales and a distribution for the retail stores the company has across the United States," he said, adding it will employ 400 people.

The developer purchased the mall in a bankruptcy auction for $2.1 million in 2017, with the mall building demolished in 2018 for the construction of two industrial buildings.

In addition, the Tyson Foods distribution center has added 180,000 square feet of new space at its site, which Zukas said will allow them to expand their workforce. The expansion cost about $60 million.

"It's a major investment in Schuylkill County," he said. "We expect they will be here for quite a number of years."

Other items discussed at the roundtable were:

—Schuylkill Municipal Authority Executive Director Patrick Caulfield said two additional medical office buildings are planned for the Geisinger St. Luke's campus, along with 43 single-family homes, 196 multi-unit townhomes and a commercial development behind the campus built by Forino Developers, along with a Rutters convenience store.

—SEDCO is working with North Point Development of Kansas City, Missouri on a 1.3 million-square-foot building on 300-acre parcel in the Butler Township side of Highridge. The commissioners on April 15 approved a Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance, or LERTA, district for the property. Zukas said the project is in the process of getting permits, with the project not going on the market until 2022.

—Ashley Furniture will lease a 100,000-square-foot facility at Highridge for five years for assembly operations. There will be 40 employees working there.

—A 117,000-square-foot "shell" building costing $5.2 million at Highridge is under contract with a New York developer that has done projects in the county along the I-81 corridor. Zukas said the developer, who wasn't identified, will work to find an existing or outside business to fill the space at Keystone Boulevard and High Ridge Park Road in Cass Township.

—SEDCO is working with the commissioners and the Airport Authority to develop a tract of land at the Hegins exit of I-81 into a 50,000-square foot facility for New Jersey-based ESPOMA, which manufactures organic fertilizer. It is in the final phase of acquiring permits.

—A 500-acre parcel owned by North Point at the Mahanoy Business Park is in the early phase of development, Zukas said. It will consist of three buildings, with water service extended from SCI-Mahanoy to a wastewater treatment plant.

—The Seiders Hill Wastewater Treatment plant was acquired by the municipal authority last year.

—A 50-lot residential subdivision is being developed on Peach Mountain in Norwegian Township as the Granbury Manor Estates, with water being provided at the municipal authority's Peach Mountain tank.

—The municipal authority received a $415,000 grant to install a raw water line at Route 443 and I-81 in Blythe Township.

—The municipal authority took on a $10 million bond to finance 20 projects, which include a new $2.5 million raw water line from the Wolf Creek Reservoir to the Broad Mountain Treatment Plant.

—Installing a new $800,000 12-inch water main at the Saint Clair Industrial Park.

—Viridian Partners is looking to build two large buildings totaling 2.38 million square feet on more than 217 acres off I-81 in Tremont for distribution and fulfillment projects near the Big Lots distribution facility.

—The county's CARES Act funding gave out 24 grants, totaling $225,000 were awarded to nonprofits in the county, while 22 municipalities received grants capped at $350,000 and 30 businesses received nearly $504,000, totaling $1.1 million. Hetherington said any business, municipality or nonprofit that applied met the guidelines received funding.

—There were 81 applications approved, totaling $16 million, for the Schuylkill County COVID-19 Hospitality Industry Recovery Program, or CHIRP. The grants are for hotels and restaurants to alleviate revenue losses and pay eligible operating expenses.

—The commissioners are looking to put a business park at the Schuylkill County Airport to generate revenue for the airport to operate on its own without using county funds.

—County officials are hoping to get 5G internet service to the entire county.

—The county received $1.4 million in state funding for demolition projects.

—The first phase of the Gilford Mills flood plain reclamation project has been funded, with the second phase slated to be done this year.

Contact the writer: clee@republicanherald.com; 570-628-6028; @Cleespot on Twitter