Editorial: With flag flap settled, Reading must seize opportunities

The Reading Downtown Improvement District board learned of two downtown restaurants closing, but another restaurant might be opening. 

Mezcal’s Mexican Restaurant at 150 N. Sixth St. and Pauline’s Soups and More on the northeast corner of Fifth and Penn streets closed, according to Charles Board, DID executive director, and Aaron Gantz, executive director of downtown development for the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance.

Mezcal posted on its Facebook page on Oct. 28 that it would be closing at the end of the day.

“It is a sad time, but we as a family have decided that this is the best course of action for all of us,” the message read. There was no indication it planned to reopen.

Pauline's space may have a new tenant. Gantz reported a new owner has signed a letter of intent.

“Hopefully, within a couple of months we will see a new tenant move into that space,” she said.

Gantz also said she had conversations with the Reading-Berks Association of Realtors to do a virtual or walking tour of downtown properties that are available.

“We are figuring out what that would look like, perhaps in the mid-spring of 2021,” she said. “That will be really great. There's a lot of new investment to showcase. We have a lot to show off."

The last tour was held in 2018.

Board member Jan D. Krafczek asked if the city-owned properties at Fifth and Penn streets would be included on the tour.

“I think those are key properties and to get some momentum going will be a key factor,” he said.

Gantz said she has to check with the city.

“The timing of that would have to align with when they are ready to re-release the RFP and market that,” Gantz said.

The city, with funding from the chamber alliance, put out a request for proposals for the five properties at the end of 2018.

Developer Alan Shuman was the only person to respond, and Mayor Eddie Moran’s administration decided to toss out the bids and start over.

Former Managing Director Pedro Cortes said the new administration would not be doing its job if it accepted the only bid.

He also cited a renewed excitement in downtown development with Alvernia University’s CollegeTowne.

Reading City’s Finance Director Jamar Kelly said the request for proposals would be put out in March or April at the earliest, and would align with the city’s own downtown strategic plan.

Finances

The DID's financial picture has looked like a roller coaster this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Some months the ity predicts it will finish the year with a deficit; other times it predicts breaking even.

On Monday, Susan Hnatuick, the ity’s administrative assistant, predicted the district could break even or possibly in the black.

“We do have some indication we will be getting paid on 345 Penn St. and a portion of the Berkshire Building. Any money we get on those two properties would put us in the black going into 2021," she said.

The board voted earlier this year to ease the burden on property owners in the district and allowed assessment collections to be extended until Sept. 30 before a late penalty is accessed. But late assessment payments have continued to hurt the DID.

Last month, 20 properties were added to the list of properties that are 90 days late and owe over $1,000.

The ity is also about $68,000 behind in assessment collections compared to last year.

Vice Chairman Richard J. McDougall thanked the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel, the district’s largest assessed property, for paying its assessment in full.

“I will commit to working with you guys to make personal calls through the month of December to get as many of these paid,” McDougall said.

Reization

The improvement district is seeking a five-year reization and that process is currently underway.

Property owners have until 4 p.m. Dec. 12 to file objections to the plan.

There are 417 properties subject to the assessment, so it would require 167 objections to defeat reization.

Three property owners have submitted objections to reization, Broad said.

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