Homes, Offices, Retail Stores Planned for Erie, Penn.

Oct. 5--George Lyons couldn't be more pleased with a newly announced $51 million plan to create a tree-lined neighborhood with town houses and mixed-use buildings around the midtown area's Griswold Park.

Lyons recently bought the vacant, former Chaffee's Appliance Store building on the northeast corner of 13th and State streets and plans to convert the first floor into retail space, and the second and third floors into residential units.

"It dovetails right into my thoughts," he said.

Lyons was among the two dozen property owners and others who attended a news conference at City Hall at noon Thursday to see the unveiling of the conceptual plan, the result of an intense effort by three architectural firms that began Tuesday morning.

The plan calls for creating town houses and mixed-use buildings throughout the area from Sassafras to State streets between 12th and 14th streets. The buildings would be centered around an expanded and renovated Griswold Park. The streets would be narrowed and lined with trees to create a neighborhood effect. There would also be some on-street parking.

In all, the area would get 143 residential units.

"This is going to change the face of the downtown," Mayor Joe Sinnott said. "I think it's doable. I think it's going to be a great thing for this neighborhood."

The mayor said it's part of his revitalization effort to bring people back downtown. The conceptual plan is an outgrowth of a revitalization plan prepared in 2006 by the firm of Kise Straw & Kolodner of Philadelphia.

Thursday's plan was prepared by the architectural firms of Looney Ricks Kiss of Memphis, Tenn.; LaQuatra Bonci Associates of Pittsburgh; and Kidder Wachter Architecture of Erie, along with a traffic engineering firm.

The first project could begin as soon as next spring, said Mark C. Schneider, managing partner with Fourth River Development of Pittsburgh, co-master developer for the midtown area.

That project calls for the construction of 12 to 14 town houses on the east side of Peach Street between 12th and 13th Streets and on the north side of 13th Street between Peach and State streets. A coffee shop would be on the first floor of a three-story building at the corner of 13th and Peach streets there.

The town houses would be sold for $160,000 to $200,000, Schneider said.

The Redevelopment Authority and the Erie Parking Authority already have control of the site. The Parking Authority owns a parking lot there, and the Redevelopment Authority owns the Erie Manufacturing and Supply Corp. building, 1215 Peach St.

The next project would likely be the construction of mixed-used buildings with both retail and town houses on the east side of Peach Street between 13th and 14th streets. The Redevelopment Authority already owns the former Warren Radio building property there.

Another proposed project is an addition to the WSEE building on the northwest corner at 13th and State streets to have the television studio on the first floor and town houses on the upper two floors.

The Redevelopment Authority does not own some of the property envisioned for projects, but the agency would work with the owners to do the project or possibly acquire the property from them, the officials said.

John R. Elliott, the Redevelopment Authority's executive director, said the $51 million estimate is just a ballpark figure. A majority of it would be private investment for the residential and commercial construction. Public funds would be used to expand and renovate Griswold Park and to do the street work and provide on-street parking. The city has already received a $250,000 grant for the park work.

"This isn't one project at $51 million," he said. "This is 10 smaller projects that can be done individually in response to the market."

Elliott said controlling the traffic in that area is critical, adding there has been an average of two people hit by vehicles at 12th and State streets each year for the past five years.

"To knock down two people a year is not acceptable," he said. "We have to do something to change the way people behave on 12th Street."

Some of that change has occurred with the recent redesign of 12th Street. Changes would also be made on Peach Street and the side streets in that immediate area.

Kim Green, the city's director of community and economic development, said motorists sometimes get off the interstate and keep driving fast through downtown Erie.

"By creating some of this traffic calming, it's going to create a natural entrance into downtown Erie," she said.

Elliott said the conceptual plan, once completed, would result in nearly $1 million a year more in property taxes and $75,000 from local income taxes from residents who move there.

Nathan S. Clark, director of public relations for Logistics Plus in Union Station, said he's happy with the plan.

"Anything that is going to bring activity and bring people back to the area is a positive thing," he said. "I think it will improve the image of Erie. Once a little bit of this is a success, I think it will grow."

Chris Sirianni, president of the Brewerie, said Griswold Park will get a "much needed face-lift," but he was also concerned about the loss of parking. The plan calls for expanding Griswold Park into the parking area next to the post office.

"I do support some expansion of the park, but the displacement of parking would be our main concern," he said.

Elliott said that despite the reduction of parking there, the overall plan creates an additional 47 parking spaces than are in that neighborhood now.

Copyright (c) 2007, Erie Times-News, Pa. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.