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Susquehanna Life

Using the Past to Build the Future

Sep 11, 2017 11:46AM ● By Melanie Heisinger

By Lisa Z. Leighton

Adaptive reuse is a relatively new land use term for an old adage—make the most from what you have.

Bob Garrett, president and CEO of the Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce, easily names a dozen examples of adaptive reuse within 20 miles of his office in Shamokin Dam.  

“This idea of adapting a building or structure for a completely new use is an interesting one because sometimes the original architecture is maintained, like in the case of Rusty Rail Brewing Co. in Mifflinburg. Sometimes elements of the land are visible, but have a completely new purpose, like the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area in Coal Township.” 

In his latter example, 6,500 acres of abandoned mining land have been transformed into a tourist attraction for riders of all-terrain vehicles and other motorized and non-motorized vehicles.

Best practices

Former Hess Gas Station (before)

There are a number of benefits to this land use strategy, according to Garrett. “Existing structures are already part of an urban core—you’re not building new roads, water or sewer lines. The infrastructure is already there. Oftentimes, parking is already in place, saving thousands of dollars.”

This strategy also preserves critically important green space and farmland, Garrett says. “Adaptive reuse clearly helps to achieve the goal of preserving agriculture and green space and at the same time provides good jobs.

“We are very comfortable marketing these spaces, and we work closely with entities like PREIT [PA Real Estate Investment Trust], which manages the Susquehanna Valley Mall, to envision the future for these spaces,” adds Garrett.

Here are just a few examples of ways in which old properties in the region have become new again.

Gas Station to Stone Shop

The Stone Shop (after)

A Hess Gas Station on Route 15 in Lewisburg had stood vacant and was considered an eyesore for many years before Scott Bernstein, owner of The Stone Shop, took a leap of faith and purchased the building with “great bones” at a location he had admired from afar. The access to Route 15 and established parking lot also were key selling points.

The Stone Shop specializes in countertops, kitchens and bathrooms, and offers natural stone products including granite and quartz countertops, stone veneers, travertine and slate flooring. In addition, the product lineup includes backsplashes, fireplace mantels and exotic stone walkways, plus custom cabinetry, and made-to-order stone furniture. All products are installed by prequalified contractors; in-home consultations are done by an in-house design consultant.  

The gas station’s underground storage tanks were removed over a decade ago, so Bernstein’s purchase of the property in February 2016 did not require remediation of a brownfield site.  

Bernstein worked with Allen Construction to reface the building and renovated the interior with new walls, lights, and floors, opening within six months of the start of construction.

The reimagined space, deceptively small from the outside, boasts ample natural light from the front, a cozy fireplace and couch as the focal point, and ample space on the sides for a variety of stone displays and samples, many of which customers can take home with to live with before making a final decision on this critical aspect of their interior design. 

Showroom now Credit Union

After many years of negotiation, the former Pennsylvania House property, off Route 15 in Lewisburg, has come to life as a mixed-use development featuring retail, grocery, banking, wellness and recreation, and residential. Current anchor businesses include Giant, CVS and Members Choice Financial Credit Union, as well as a dozen restaurants and retail businesses.

Aerial shot of the Pennsylvania House furniture warehouse

Members Choice Financial Credit Union was the first organization to make use of the vacated land in 2008, renovating the 16,500-square-foot former Pennsylvania House showroom, which showcased fabrics, furniture styles and room designs, into its primary Lewisburg banking location outfitted with a multiple-lane drive-through. Part of the property is leased to Central Susquehanna LPN Career Center, providing MC Financial with an income stream.

The renovation made good financial sense to MC Financial CEO James Barbarich, whose experience in the construction business yielded knowledge of  the dollars and cents affiliated with reuse as opposed to building new.

“The average cost for new construction is $200 a square foot; our renovation was approximately $72 a square foot,” explains Barbarich.

Barbarich also had personal reasons for embracing the opportunity; he was a former Pennsylvania House employee and was eager to see the site reused.

In addition to manageable renovation costs, there were other tangible benefits to reuse this particular site.

“We had a solid structure to begin with, the location was ideal and we were able to incorporate energy efficiency, such as geothermal and insulation throughout,” he added.

The $1.2 million purchase and renovation allowed MCFCU to focus on energy efficiency in the design and construction, while experiencing significant savings.

“As a comparison, the pad alone for the new CVS in the development site was $2 million and the Giant grocery store pad was $5 million,” according to Barbarich.

He continues, “We salvaged wood and all the cabinets and donated them to Habitat for Humanity. That was a win-win for everyone.”

Wellness Center Arises from Warehouse

Fast forward to December 2016 when construction for the Miller Center for Recreation and Wellness began at the former Pennsylvania House warehouse. Seven short months later, the center is accepting memberships for its fitness center; all offerings will be open to the public in early September.

The 97,000-square-foot facility features hard courts and 1/7-mile track, fitness center and training facility, courtyard and to-go meals window, leased medical space, synthetic turf field, café, five multi-purpose rooms and child development space.

Within the building, members have access to health and wellness professionals—physical therapists, fitness experts and instructors, registered dietitians, and child development specialists—underscoring an innovative and comprehensive approach to wellness.

The Miller family had the idea for an indoor fitness and recreation center five years ago. The proximity of the location to the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail’s trailhead, the height of the ceilings and overall feeling of openness gave the vacant site immediate appeal. A nearly 300-space parking lot was also critically important for a center of its size.

Beth Miller, board member and one of the center’s namesakes, says, “We aim to be an example of best practices and to be the best [health and wellness facility] that the region has to offer.”

Candlemaking Shop Now Illuminates Cabinetry and Decking

Susquehanna Homescapes (after)


Central Pennsylvania residents are familiar with the former Colonial Candlecrafters business, just south of Lewisburg along Route 15, as their candles graced the tables of countless homes for more than 30 years. When the property changed hands from Pat and Greg Hess to Mifflinburg Lumber in October 2014, renovations began to reimagine the space as two showrooms under one name, Susquehanna Homescapes—one for custom cabinetry and another for deck products.

The first showroom, The Cabinetry Studio, opened in June 2015 and features 11 kitchen vignettes with custom countertops and cabinetry laid out in an efficient space, all featuring products and finishes offered by Mifflinburg Lumber at their lumberyard and highlighting many local companies including Legacy Cabinets, WW Wood Products, Shiloh Cabinetry and RW Woodworking.

“This gives our customers a way to visualize finishes and be a resource for builders, both with remodels and new construction,” says Nate Siegel, general manager.

Siegel’s employees often find themselves helping customers of customers, referring to contractors, which make up about 75 percent of their business.

Candle workshop interior (before)

“It was a natural progression for our business to open a location in Lewisburg, as the geography lends itself to our target demographic. Lewisburg [and Route 15, in particular] is centrally located to Williamsport, Harrisburg, Bloomsburg and Mifflinburg,” Siegel added. “We had been looking at the Route 15 corridor for some time.”

The location features a large paved parking lot and merged well with the business’ philosophy to reuse and adapt old spaces with new life.

The second showroom, The Decking Connection, is in the midst of renovation and will feature sample decking products in the same vignette style as the cabinetry showroom, as well as four sample 10-by-10-foot decks in-between the two showroom buildings.

While Siegel admits that there is an inherent challenge in utilizing the space you’re given, he says with a smile and a sincerity that resonates, “There’s charm in renovating an old space.”

Lisa Z. Leighton is a freelance writer and marketing professional who resides in Columbia County. 

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