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Pine Square owner seeks $1M grant for upgrades

City Council’s finance committee gave a positive recommendation to the owner of Pine Street Square properties, who is applying for a $1 million Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant from the state Office of Budget for improving the downtown plaza.

Developer Tony Ecker and his wife, Katie, have asked for the city to be the pass-through entity as the couple work with Penn Strategies Inc. on the grant application for the Pine Square improvement project.

Ecker said he and his wife recently took ownership of the property. The couple own 343 Pine St., 345 Pine St., 347 Pine St., 349 Pine St. and the entirety of the Pine Square.

Ecker said he is going to further beautify the downtown plaza, improve the entranceway to the courtyard and make it fully accessible.

The location has two restaurants along with retail and residential space.

Some of the buildings in the area are underused.

Ten years ago, The Brickyard, a restaurant specializing in fresh grilled burgers, American cuisine and beverages, opened. Ecker said he and his partners created the space using “private funds.”

“We like to think we did a pretty good job in building a restaurant and a second restaurant (Stonehouse Pizza), and some apartment spaces and some retail spaces, “ Ecker said.

“We did run out of funds a long time ago,” Ecker said.

When the Eckers were presented with the opportunity to take it on, it was more a matter of wanting to finish the project and bring everything that was originally envisioned for Pine Square into completion.

In the area exists multiple retail outlets that are currently “empty spaces, used for storage by the restaurants or the apartment buildings,” Ecker said.

“We never had the funds to get it finished off,” he said.

Currently, a stage area, where live music and bands perform, consists of plywood on top of a planter, or a garden that was never created into a staging area.

It is the same with the Stonehouse Restaurant, which, Ecker said, “opened on a shoestring budget, with an outdoor patio area that is a filled in planter with a fence around it.”

The other focus of the project is the rear of the buildings facing the Midtown Plaza.

In 2010, behind the buildings on Pine Street, was the former Midtown Parking Garage, which was decaying and needed to be replaced.

Because of that look, Ecker said the original plan was to have the main entrance off of Pine Street Square to be off of Pine Street. A sign, a water feature and artwork was added.

Shortly afterward, the city received money, a grant and it tore down the garage and built Trade and Transit II, adding additional parking spaces. That entrance to the courtyard also began to be used as a main entrance to the courtyard.

However, the rear of the buildings still do not represent what the developers want to see and their goal is to clean those up and make the rear of the buildings more representative of the downtown and the rest of the area.

Committee members seemed eager to see the developers obtain the grant and accomplish their goals.

“I think it is a great project and I like the conceptual ideas,” Councilman Randall J. Allison said. “The original project was such a blessing for the city, being such a centerpiece and very popular.”

“It is great to put money into development of underused properties,” he said.

“I think it is a terrific idea,” Councilwoman Liz Miele, committee chair, said.

“The space you guys have built out on Pine Street has really been an asset to the city, but also there is much more that can be done with it.

“If this funding will help you get there then I think that it is excellent that you are pursuing it,” Miele said.

Penn Strategies president Jason Fitzgerald said they should know by about October if they were successful in getting the grant.

August “Skip” Memmi, director of city community and economic development department, said this request was very simply the city applying for the grant for the sub-recipient.

The project scope is to be located at the area of the square at 343 Pine St. Phil Trometter of Penn Strategies said part of the project involves the city serving as the pass-through entity.

All of the forms the Office of Budget requires will be handled by Penn Strategies and its internal team and its RACP division at the firm, Trometter said.

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