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United Disabilities eyes move to county’s last Erin Court building in $3.6M project

Tim Mekeel | Lancaster Newspapers

For three-plus years, the Lancaster County Commissioners have been trying to extract the county from its ill-fated investment on Erin Court.

The board put the county’s three empty office buildings there, off Rohrerstown Road near the Route 30 bypass, up for sale in December 2013.

Now, after divesting one of the East Hempfield Township structures in October 2014 and another in February, settlement on the third is set for September.

That topped a $2.3 million offer made by MidAtlantic Farm Credit, according to minutes of the meeting.

Dennis Stuckey, chairman of the commissioners, and Josh Parsons voted in favor. Craig Lehman voted against, saying the space might be needed by the county’s Behavioral Health & Developmental Services, if a possible sale of its Janet Avenue building necessitates a relocation.

“I’m very happy to get the final building sold and move on — let (United Disabilities) do its thing and we won’t have an empty building to contend with,” said Stuckey on Friday.

Financing would be provided by the East Hempfield Township Industrial Development Authority, which is set to meet Aug. 4 to vote on whether to issue tax-exempt bonds for the venture.

The township Zoning Hearing Board has approved a variance and special exception for the project.

Room to grow

United Disabilities would move two locations in the Greenfield Corporate Center  and part of its Elm Avenue location to Erin Court, following $1.1 million in renovations.

“We’re bursting at the seams here,” said Bill Kepner, president and chief executive officer on United Disabilities.

“We’ve converted storage closets into conference rooms. Every time we meet in conference room B, I remind everyone that this used to be a closet,” he said Friday.

Relocating to the three-level brick structure, built in 1990 and vacant for six years, would improve efficiency by consolidating, while providing much-needed room to grow, said Kepner.

“What’s exciting for us is we’ll be able to expand a number of our programs,” he said.

The commissioners bought the Erin Court buildings in 2011 for $4.4 million, to house Children & Youth Agency employees who were losing offices at Conestoga View.

But staff reductions opened room at the county’s 150 N. Queen St. offices, eliminating the need for the Erin Court space. The county never moved a single employee there.

The Erin Court plan suffered another blow when a key tenant there, Pennfield Corp., filed for bankruptcy and went out of business.

The commissioners initially hoped that selling the three buildings separately would fetch a total of $4.7 million — more than recouping the county’s outlay — but the county seems destined to fall short.

The first to be divested was 2250 Erin Court. The 6,500-square-foot building sold for $625,000 to insurance firm NTI Group.

Next came 2260 Erin Court. The 10,000-square-foot building, with tenant Howard Hanna Real Estate, was sold for $900,000 to investor AFE Enterprises.

So, assuming United Disabilities’ $2.5 million deal for the 31,000-square-foot building is completed, the three buildings would garner a total of $4.0 million.

Deepa Balepur of Compass Real Estate represented United Disabilities in the transaction; Christine Sable of Sable Commercial Realty represented the county.

Triggering the shortfall

The combined return would be less than the original target in large part due to a reduction in the asking price for 2270 Erin Court.

The county’s initial asking price of $2.9 million was lowered to reflect deterioration of the walls and floor of the vacant building’s lower level.

 Though the latter two properties took years to sell, that’s not due to a lack of interest.

Sable said United Disabilities is the fourth would-be buyer to sign a sales agreement for its building; AFE was the fifth to do so for its building.

In some instances, financing fell through. In others, investors wanted to buy the buildings for tenants that fell through.

Most notable was a state call center proposed for 2270 Erin Court that would have meant 300 jobs and would have met the county’s original $2.9 million asking price. But the state canceled the project.

United Disabilities, established 52 years ago, serves 5,000 people in 33 counties. Clients include people with physical disabilities, seniors with age-related reductions in their abilities and veterans.

Relocating would be about 100 of United Disabilities’ 340 employees.

These would include all employees at its 1901 Olde Homestead Lane headquarters and at its office and warehouse at 1905 Olde Homestead Lane, plus some of the employees at its 1325 Elm Ave. office.

Staff for its non-medical personal care program would move; its adult enrichment program staff would stay.

Kepner said renovations to the building primarily would consist of improving accessibility, creating a meeting/event space, and adding a lounge and fitness room for employees.

Occupancy is slated for April.

Kepner said United Disabilities said it was a challenge to find a new home that would provide more office space, storage space and parking. The search took two years.

“We looked a little bit outside the county, but we also knew that we wanted to stay inside the county. We’re excited that we found something that enable us to keep our roots deeply anchored here,” said Kepner.