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Wilson Borough Council talks TIFs with Dixie Cup apartment developer

Dixie Cup plant
Donna S. Fisher
For LehighValleyNews.com
The old Dixie Cup plant in Wilson Borough in May 2023.

WILSON, Pa. — Talk concerning development of the former Dixie Cup property into a 405-unit apartment building at Monday's Wilson Borough Council meeting concentrated predominantly on establishing a tax program that could prove vital to the project.

Representatives of Skyline Investment Group, including founder Brian Bartee, provided a few updates and took questions from government officials and the public, with most of the conversation touching on Tax Increment Financing Districts, or TIFs.

Council also managed to finalize a resolution regarding a bit of property intended to be kept accessible to the public.

It approved transferring about 1 acre of the borough’s land to make a public plaza adjacent to the Tatamy Rail Trail.

TIF time

A TIF district diverts property tax revenue from a particular area to an economic development project.

The proposed 1921 at Dixie Avenue TIF, if approved by Northampton County, Wilson Area School District and Wilson, likely would amount to $28.9 million.

The hope for the tactic is that the development will stimulate increased taxes over time, with the municipality issuing bonds to help finance the project, then using the increased tax rates from the revitalization to pay them off.

"So we need it. And I need the borough, I need the school district and I need the county, too."
Skyline Investment Group founder Brian Bartee

Borough solicitor Stanley Margle said he had spoken to attorneys connected with Skyline as of Monday to address a minor element of the TIF related to a property transfer before providing a brief overview of the project thus far.

According to Margle, Skyline has remediated tanks found on the Dixie property under guidance of the state Department of Environmental Protection at Skyline’s expense.

Bartee said the move was just one indication of his company’s dedication to the project, which may very well depend on TIF approval.

“I'm a commercial real estate finance expert," Bartee said. "If the TIF gets approved, the building's going to get done. That's just the bottom line.

"So we need it. And I need the borough, I need the school district and I need the county, too."

'It's an incentive'

The county tabled the TIF discussion last week. Officials said it would work better if the district and borough, which are both affected more directly by TIFs, finalize their agreements first.

Margle said he would prefer the borough’s part of the process to be complete by the end of August, at the latest.

Brian Myszkowski
Skyline Investment Group's Brian Bartee discusses TIFs and other issues linked to the 1921 at Dixie Avenue apartment project during Wilson Borough's Monday council meeting.

Margle said the developer and the county had reached an agreement of paying $1.1 million in cash for subsidies of affordable housing.

He also said the borough and district would see long-term payouts through taxes from renters.

As for the borough, Bartee said that when it came to offering financial incentives for the project, “I took the offer to the max dollars that the deal can debt service without it breaking.”

Bartee said that since he could not borrow against the TIF, he would have to use private funds — about $500,000, he said — which would amount to a repayment of about $3 million when the loan was completed.

The cash value of the TIF for the borough comes to $2.03 million, Bartee said.

Margle made a point that the TIF would not function as free money for the developer.

“There obviously isn't a benefit to the developer by the adoption of the TIF, but it's an incentive," Margle said. "And along with that incentive, the developer takes a risk.

"And the risk is creation of what will ultimately be a 405-unit project, where in the paths that I’ve seen, he's not going to make a dime for about six years."

Live art in a Dixie Cup? AI robots? Oh my!

An attorney representing Skyline also said it would be necessary for the borough to create a Neighborhood Improvement District for the project to start.

An NIP “basically says the property owner agrees to tax himself through a special assessment over and above the generally applicable real estate taxes,” which can be used to offset a tax deficiency, if that were to happen in the future.

Public questions were relatively few, including some about the proposed bike path’s fate (it's still part of the project), and the completion date for the building.

"The art, I mean, it's going to be something that's an attraction, right? People are going to come from all around the world to see this.”
Skyline Investment Group founder Brian Bartee

“Let's say we closed end of February," Bartee told a resident wondering about a timetable. "You figure in 18 months from that point, it'll be fully completed.

"But we'll start leasing the building up 14 months after construction.”

Bartee was so enthusiastic about the proposed apartments, he at one point offered to host a dinner for a select group of Wilson officials to celebrate.

Bartee also said his company had procured artist Bruce Rosenbaum, host of the Netflix series “Amazing Interiors,” to help deck out the public park proposed for the project.

“What he's talking about doing with the cup is putting live art inside the cup, putting an AI robot from repurposed materials from inside the building — we already have some of those materials — and you can ask the AI robot questions, it'll tell you the answers from that [time] period,” Bartee said.

“And also the art, I mean, it's going to be something that's an attraction, right? People are going to come from all around the world to see this.”