State invests $500K in Reading, highlights importance of strengthening downtowns with proposed Main Street Matters program

Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) Secretary Rick Siger was joined by Senator Judy Schwank, Representative Manuel Guzman, Representative Johanny Cepeda-Freyitz, and other local leaders announced on Thursday a $500,000 investment by the Commonwealth to the Greater Berks Development Fund (GBDF), an affiliate of the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance (GRCA), to assist Shuman Development Group’s project to refurbish the Trexler Mansion (Elks Club) in downtown Reading.

The announcement emphasizes the commitment by Governor Josh Shapiro and his Administration to strengthening the Commonwealth’s communities and main streets, including $25 million for the proposed Main Street Matters program in the Governor’s 2024-25 budget.

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“Governor Shapiro is focused on making strategic investments, like the one we are celebrating here today in downtown Reading, that help our communities and main streets become better places to live, work and visit,” said Secretary Rick Siger. “We’re looking to expand our impact on main streets across Pennsylvania and to empower local leaders to realize the full potential of their economies. That’s why the Governor is calling for $25 million to create the Main Street Matters program to invest in the success and prosperity of small businesses, downtowns, and main streets all across Pennsylvania.”

The Trexler Mansion is a historic 27,000-square-foot building on property that anchors the South Fifth Street corridor and southern side of Reading’s Callowhill Historic District. In 1908, the residential mansion was converted into the Elks Club Lodge 115 but has been vacant for the last 40 years. Shuman Development Group plans to restore the historic mansion through its subsidiary entity Reading Historic Properties, LP, which is the current owner of the property.

“Here in Reading and Berks County, our family-owned small businesses are the heartbeat of our communities and drive economic growth,” said Senator Judy Schwank. “Governor Shapiro’s Main Street Matters program is an ambitious vision for economic development that is hyper-focused on supporting small businesses and revitalizing Main Streets across Pennsylvania. In recent years, we’ve seen significant state investments breathe new life into downtown Reading. Main Street Matters is another tool we can utilize to move Reading forward and strengthen our local economy.”

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Plans for reuse include a partnership with Alvernia University through its CollegeTowne initiative to create meeting space for downtown job fairs as well as special event space for the Reading Public Library literacy outreach programs. The bulk of the $500,000 grant, which is through the Keystone Communities Program, will be used for exterior work such as roof and roof structure repair/replacement, masonry, and window restoration. In addition to the funding from DCED, the City of Reading and Berks County have each committed $300,000 to the project to help offset the costs of repairing the roof structural issues.

“I am thrilled to join Secretary Siger in his effort to underscore the pivotal role of the Main Street Matters program in fortifying our local economy,” said Representative Manuel Guzman. “Governor Shapiro’s proposed investment in this plan signifies a comprehensive approach that would certainly strengthen our city and state. The Main Street Matters Program will build upon the current Keystone Communities Grant Program, which is a proven, positive initiative that has significantly impacted our community.”

“These investments in the Main Street Matters program are crucial for communities like Reading,” said Representative Johanny Cepeda-Freyitz. “They are not just revitalizing buildings; they are restoring hope, opportunity, and pride to the heart of the city and I will always be a strong advocate for investing in the community. These investments bring life back to our communities, creating vibrant spaces for local businesses to thrive, families to gather, and memories to be made. It’s more than just bricks and mortar ― it’s a testament to our commitment to the prosperity and well-being of every resident in Reading.”

Also on-hand at the event was Reading Mayor Eddie Moran and Lucine Sihelnik, President and CEO of the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance.

“Investing in the heart of Reading means revitalizing our community’s historic gems,” said Mayor Eddie Moran. “With this Keystone Communities grant awarded by DCED, we’re restoring the iconic Trexler Mansion and breathing life back into a once-vacant landmark. This project not only preserves our history but also paves the way for a brighter future, continuing our partnerships with Alvernia University and Reading Public Library to empower our downtown and literacy programs.”

“This project embodies the power of collaboration and is a testament to the collective efforts of a private developer, Shuman Development Group, and public-sector partners working together to breathe new life into a historic property in the heart of the City of Reading’s Central Business District,” said Lucine Sihelnik.

Governor Shapiro’s proposed Main Street Matters program will be administered through DCED and will build on the existing successes of the current Keystone Communities Program in supporting downtowns, main streets, and surrounding neighborhoods. It will provide for a refresh of the current structure to address a wide variety of needs throughout communities and invest in their revitalization and future prosperity.

The Governor’s 2024-25 budget calls for significant investments directly tied back to Pennsylvania’s first Economic Development Strategy in nearly two decades.

In addition to the $25 million for the Main Street Matters program, other proposed economic development investments in the Governor’s budget include: $500 million in PA SITES funding to bring more commercial and industrial sites to Pennsylvania; $20 million to support large-scale innovation and leverage Pennsylvania’s best-in-class research and development assets; and $3.5 million to create and launch the Pennsylvania Regional Economic Competitiveness Challenge to incentivize regional growth.

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Berks Weekly
Berks Weekly
Berks Weekly is an independent and locally owned digital newspaper covering the City of Reading and Berks County. Subscribe today: berksweekly.com/subscribe
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