A controversial $50-$60 million plan to renovate the Dixie Cup factory narrowly secured consent from Wilson Area School Board at Monday night’s regular meeting.
District officials have struggled to decide whether or not to green-light the proposed Keystone Opportunity Zone, or KOZ, at the prominent but long-blighted site. In the end, they voted 5-4 to approve it.
“It will be an asset to the community as an iconic building,” co-owner Joseph Reibman argued before a divided school board.
The state-administered, competitive KOZ program offers tax relief to residents and businesses as a way to spur development of older, qualifying properties; with the Dixie Cup factory, an estimated $680 million in school tax revenues over 10 years is at stake.
While Wilson Borough residents may end up seeing the renovation of a broken-windowed structure many consider a community-depressing eyesore, Wilson ASD’s Region III (mostly Williams Township) may see no direct, obvious benefits.
Consequently, it was little surprise that Monday’s close vote broke largely along geographic and demographic lines, with all three of Wilson ASD’s three board members from the wealthier Williams Township as well as Wilson’s Scott Wamsley voting against it.
“I think the [tax breaks] are unfair for the rest of the taxpayers,” said board Treasurer Cindy Nester.
New board member William Wallace also expressed fear that the large number of one- and two-bedroom apartments envisioned in the plan would bring a population burden to the district.
School board President David Seiple, Vice President Linda Baskwell, and board members Charles Marsteller, Janis Krieger and Anthony Verenna – some of whom live relatively close to the factory – all quietly voted for the KOZ, with little comment.
“I think it’s a good thing,” said Verenna.
With a strong tailwind of support from Wilson Borough Council, the owners and Lehigh Valley economic development interests, the KOZ plan can now progress to Northampton County Council, which is likely to approve it.
Once all local taxing authorities give the KOZ the go-ahead, an application still requires state approval.
The Dixie Cup KOZ fits into a broader Commonwealth-driven strategy to use tax breaks to spur economic development, an approach favored by Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration.
“I think it's time we moved on things that have sat around for years,” said Northampton County Councilman Bob Werner, whose district covers Wilson, upon learning of the vote. “I can’t speak for the council, but I do think it’s positive step forward for the community if we do something. I have looked at the Dixie Cup for many years and pondered what would happen.”