The Lancaster County Redevelopment Authority board approved three more applications to Pennsylvania’s “Local Share Account” grant program at its meeting last week.
Two are on behalf of local nonprofits: LancasterHistory, which is seeking the maximum grant amount of $1 million for the Thaddeus Stevens & Lydia Hamilton Smith Center for History & Democracy; and the Janus School, which serves students with learning disabilities and is seeking $250,000 for information technology upgrades as part of a campus renovation and expansion project.
The third is on behalf of a for-profit company, Esh Foods, which is seeking $1 million to help with developing a distribution center in Sadsbury Township.
Esh Foods works with farmers and small food producers, including many Plain Sect enterprises, to market and distribute their products to stores and farmers markets. The items are primarily traditional Lancaster County fare, including smoked meats, scrapple, fudge and whoopie pies.
Like other local enterprises, Esh Foods is struggling to expand amid a shortage of buildable land, EDC Lancaster President Ezra Rothman told the authority board.
In 2021, it paid $3.57 million to acquire 80 acres along Newport Pike (Route 41) just south of Gap. Preparing the site for development will require about $7 million of work, Rothman said. That’s the phase for which the company is seeking public assistance.
It isn’t practical to connect to the township’s somewhat limited water and sewer infrastructure, so Esh Foods will have to build its own on-site sewer treatment capacity and a well water system. Those components, while essential, won’t add much to the property value: That means the collateral necessary to secure a bank loan isn’t available, EDC Lancaster’s Jessica Hamilton said.
Without assistance, Esh Foods would have to provide 40% of the project cost out of its own capital, or double the 20% of a standard 80% loan-to-value business loan structure, Hamilton said.
“This is definitely a necessity,” she said.
The Local Share Account program is funded by gaming proceeds. Its guidelines say grants must go toward projects that improve community of quality of life. In addition, projects must be “owned and maintained” by a nonprofit or government-affiliated entity.
With regard to the Esh Foods project, creating jobs and supporting the local economy would meet the “quality of life” criterion, Rothman said. To work around the project ownership rules, the Lancaster County Redevelopment Authority would temporarily take over the property, then transfer it back to Esh Foods after the project is finished.
Decisions on Local Share Account applications are made at the state level. It’s unclear when grants might be awarded, but it won’t be until spring at the earliest, officials have said.
The authority approved three Local Share Account applications at its meeting in October: for Manor Youth House, a transitional housing project for young adults; Pleasant View Communities, a retirement community that is upgrading its technology; and its own application for the South Prince Street homelessness services hub.
The Lancaster County Land Bank also is submitting an application, for a redevelopment project in Columbia.