County awarded second EPA grant to continue transforming old commercial sites like former Hummelstown Borough Building

HUMMELSTOWN, PA (June 5, 2019) – A local development group’s plans to turn Hummelstown’s former borough building into the new home of Rubber Soul Brewing marks the latest successful redevelopment project under the Dauphin County Commissioners’ Transformation Initiative.

As they unveiled the project today at the former borough building, the commissioners were joined by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler, who pointed to the board’s redevelopment track record as he announced the county would receive a second Brownfields Assessment Grant for $300,000.

Funding from the initial $400,000 grant was used for an environmental assessment of the borough building and helped the deal move forward.

“This project shows what is possible when the different levels of government work together along with the private sector,’’ said commissioners’ Chairman Jeff Haste. “Conducting environmental assessments is a key part of marketing these properties to developers, and EPA’s support has made that possible.’’

Hummelstown native Mike VanGavree said he and his three partners last month acquired Maryland-based Rubber Soul’s assets out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy and hope to get borough approval to open the brewery in the former municipal building. Failing that, VanGavree said they would turn the building into class A office space.

“Especially with older townships and boroughs that don’t have undeveloped land for new construction, it’s vital that we help them bring new life into vacant commercial and industrial sites,’’ said Commissioner Mike Pries, who oversees the county’s Department of Community & Economic Development. “In addition to putting this property back on the property tax rolls, it will create new jobs and opportunities in the community.’’

The commissioners said they expect to use the majority of the new $300,000 EPA grant for environmental assessments of the 300-acre State Hospital grounds. An agreement of sale pending approval by Gov. Tom Wolf would allow the Dauphin County Redevelopment Authority to market the property for no money up-front and then split the proceeds with the state.

VanGavree and his partners, operating as Ghost Brewing LLC, purchased the former 5,304-square-foot municipal building at 136 South Hanover St. and a 1,197-square-foot adjacent home also owned by the borough for $315,250 last month. The borough moved to its new building about five blocks away at 261 Quarry Road in December 2017.

“This board is committed to creating economic opportunities for our residents,’’ said Commissioner George P. Hartwick, III. “When a business takes over a vacant commercial or industrial site, they turn a drain on the community into a prized asset that create jobs and adds to the tax base.’’

The transaction was handled by the Dauphin County Redevelopment Authority, which represented Hummelstown. Unlike a municipality, which would be required to take the highest bid regardless of the amount, the authority had the legal flexibility to rebid the property when the initial offers came in too low. Additionally, the authority could reject any proposals if the planned use did not meet with Hummelstown’s approval. The authority received a $20,000 fee for handling the deal, which will go toward future projects.

“Hummelstown is proud to partner with the county to make this project possible,” said Hummelstown Mayor Dave Roeting. “The EPA grant funding helped to make this property marketable.”

VanGavree said he appreciated the borough partnering with the authority. George Connor, executive director of the county’s Department of Economic and Community Development, helped make it a seamless transaction, he said.

“The Rubber Soul brand recognition is remarkable, and Hummelstown is a great place for a brewery to capture some of the overflow from Hershey and the related tourism,’’ VanGavree said, adding he expects the business will initially create a dozen jobs. “I grew up here and my family is here, and I liked the idea of bringing this opportunity to Hummelstown.’’

After receiving the first EPA grant in 2017, the commissioners launched the Transformation Initiative with an eye toward using county resources to help foster the redevelopment of now-vacant commercial and industrial sites. As part of the initiative, the commissioners appointed local stakeholders to an advisory board to help identify properties and partnered with Susquehanna Township-based TRC Environmental Corporation to conduct site assessments.

Environmental assessments of old commercial and industrial sites are crucial because both developers and lenders need to know if there are any environmental liabilities – and potential cleanup costs -- before a project moves forward.

In addition to $4,500 used to assess the former Hummelstown municipal building, EPA-funded assessments were used to analyze the almost 6-acres of former steel mill land slated for The Steel Works, a mixed-use development in downtown Steelton featuring a grocery, brewpub and more than 100 apartments.

Other brownfield sites where EPA-funded assessments were conducted include the construction-ready lot that was the Reamer & Tool Company in Millersburg and the former Villa Theresa nursing facility in Lower Paxton Township now used by Select Medical, LLC.