EAST BERLIN BOROUGH, Pa. (WHTM) — Too much abandoned retail space. Too few residential units.
To varying degrees, that’s the situation everywhere in America. The solution?
Sometimes, a place like The Commons at East Berlin, a 40-unit apartment complex for people 55 years and older on the site of a former supermarket, Nell’s. The property had been vacant for 14 years.
No one was prepared to put another supermarket there. But housing?
“The demand is there. And so that that’s what makes it very attractive to take these old, abandoned, underused, commercial buildings and refurbish them,” said Eric Johnston, the developer.
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Although the property is reconstructed, Johnston said he preserved as much of the old building as he could. One major change: He knocked down part of what was the front of the supermarket to open it up to what’s now a courtyard.
That overcomes a challenge developers often face when converting commercial space to residential: Residential space typically requires more windows, including in what was the interior of the commercial space.
East Berlin Mayor Stephanie Haley’s first job was bagging groceries at Nell’s when she was 16. So seeing the building abandoned?
“It was hard to see it be empty for so long,” Haley said. “So for us to have a vacant building and have it be turned into a place where new people can come in — they can become part of our community — is really, really a great thing.”
Haley cited the walkability — restaurants, doctors’ offices, a post office, a community center, and a park all within blocks — as a selling point. She said those amenities, combined with work-from-home opportunities for seniors who want to stay employed, make a place like East Berlin particularly attractive.