Battery maker eyeing city site, council hears that deal - and other development - depend on reorganizing Reading's community development department, Albert R. Boscov tells officials.

The following article was published on Feb. 20, 2002 Reading Times.
By Jason Brudereck, Eagle/Times
A fuel-cell battery manufacturer might build a 38,000-square-foot plant on Morgantown Road, Albert R. Boscov told City Council on Tuesday. The chairman of Boscov's Inc. added that Mayor Joseph D. Eppihimer's dream of building a hotel across from the Sovereign Center is not dead. But for proposals such as these to continue to develop in Reading, he said, council must approve a proposal from Eppihimer's

administration to create two economic and neighborhood development positions in the city community development department. These initiatives and a plan to put an office building in the 400 block of Penn Street are all proposed for Reading's Keystone Opportunity Zones, in which property owners don't have to pay state or local taxes through 2013. Nan F. Balmer, community development director, said the proposals would require council to transfer some grants to the Greater Berks Development Fund and make other approvals. The plant would be built by Powerzinc Electric Inc., a California-based battery manufacturer that focuses on Electric scooters used primarily in China and Taiwan, according to the company's Web site. The company must determine if the batteries can be made at a competitive cost in Reading, Boscov said. The plant would be built on land owned by Greater Berks next to a Brentwood Industries facility that received $3.9 million in federal funding for expansion projects last year in an opportunity zone. The plan to build the hotel stalled last year after Harrisburg-area developer John O. Vartan scaled it back. Also, city officials had questioned if it would be wise to have another hotel so close to the LIncoln Plaza Hotel & Conference Center at Fifth and Washington streets. The city will pay almost $300,000 annually of the LIncoln's debt until the hotel makes a profit because the LIncoln received about $6.45 million in loans from the city's federal Community Development funds before it opened in 1998. "The mayor still feels another hotel is critical to bringing conventions to the Sovereign Center," Boscov told council. Boscov said he and Eppihimer plan to reopen meetings with Vartan. Eppihimer did not attend the meeting Tuesday. Even if the hotel isn't built, another company is interested in building a small office building there, Boscov said. That property is now a parking lot owned by the Reading Redevelopment Authority, which would need to agree to transfer the land for anything to be built there. For these and other projects to move forward, council must support a reorganization of Balmer's department, Boscov said. "It's impossible for her staff to do it all," he said. The proposal could cost $120,000 in annual salaries, or $32,000 more than the city paid for two vacant positions that would be eliminated under the proposal. Council President Vaughn D. Spencer said council would support some sort of reorganization.




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