Dinniman lauds start of Sonoco site redevelopment

Neal Fisher, Vice President of Development for the Hankin Group; Senator Dinniman; Mike Malloy, General Counsel for the Hankin Group; and Don Vymazal, Senator Dinniman’s Government Relations Director; tour the site of the former Sonoco Paper Mill in Downingtown.

DOWNINGTOWN — State Senator Andy Dinniman recently joined officials from the Hankin Group to tour the site of the former Sonoco paper mill plant where demolition is now underway in preparation for a development project that will transform Downingtown.

On Wednesday evening, Downingtown Borough Council approved Hankin Group’s conditional use request for the development of Brandywine Station, a mixed-use transit oriented development at the site of what hopefully will be the new Downingtown AMTRAK/SEPTA Train Station.

“We’ve come a long way already,” Neal Fisher, Vice President of Development for the Hankin Group, said. “This project is unique to Downingtown and together we’ve worked through some challenges. We’re thankful for Senator Dinniman’s support; he has been instrumental in moving this development forward since the beginning.  We truly appreciate his ongoing support.”

Hankin Group has acquired 68 total acres (40 in Downingtown and 28 in East Caln) located at the intersection of Boot Road and Route 322 (Brandywine Ave) with plans to build 442 residential units atop 14,200 square feet of retail space – a project that will create a new gateway to Downingtown. In addition, the development will feature a pedestrian bridge connecting Downingtown’s Johnsontown Park to the east bank of the Brandywine Creek and a trail system that links to the proposed extension of the Chester-Valley Trail system. It will also include over 100,000 square-feet of commercial office space.

According to the Hankin Group, asbestos abatement work is currently underway on a several severely dilapidated rowhomes and demolition work will begin next week.

Dinniman, who has been a strong supporter and advocate for the site’s reuse since the beginning, was thrilled to see work underway.

“The old paper mill and these blighted properties have held us back for far too long,” Dinniman said. “Now, thanks to the vision and hard work of the Hankin Group, Downingtown Borough and many others, we’re moving full-steam ahead to reimagine this space and turn it into an entranceway to Downingtown that we can all be proud of.

“There is no doubt that this represents a sea change for the borough. It will be transformative economically, residentially, and from a transportation perspective. We’re talking about an unprecedented investment here – one with job and career opportunities, new stores and restaurants, top-notch housing accommodations, a multimodal transportation hub, and upgraded rail infrastructure,” he added.

Over the past two years, the Hankin Group has worked extensively with borough and PennDOT officials on the project, including acquiring 21 different parcels that comprise the property.

Prior to the Hankin Group’s involvement, Dinniman noted that the abandoned paper mill property and its buildings were not only an eyesore, they were downright unsafe.

“The buildings have deteriorated significantly and are highly unstable. When young people would venture back here it was a recipe for trouble,” he said.

Sadly, a young man lost his life due to a fall at the property several years ago.

Dinniman said he has introduced Senate Bill 962, to help ensure that brownfields and blighted properties are properly secured. It calls for enacting a series of fines and criminal penalties on owners of blighted properties who received state funds for their redevelopment, but fail to secure them. The fines begin at $5,000 and rise to $20,000 with repeated violations.

“We know that revitalization projects can take time. There are a lot of moving parts,” he said. “But when developers receive state funds to clean up a blighted property, they have a responsibility to the community to secure the site rather than let it sit open. The bill makes sure that this responsibility is enforced.”

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