A redevelopment project for the 13.9-acre campus of the former Lebanon Catholic School is moving ahead with a few tweaks to make it a better fit for current market conditions.

Destiny Builders & Management, a hotel and multifamily developer/general contractor/management firm owned and operated by Shakher Patel, acquired the property for $2.2 million in June 2022.

Last spring, Patel pulled back the curtain on a reimagined plan for the site after an initial proposal was stymied by zoning obstacles. That reimagined vision for the site was developed in part by North Cornwall Township resident Jesse Suders, a community and economic development planner for Harrisburg-based consultancy Dawood Engineering Inc.

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Despite economic headwinds such as high interest rates and the cooled-down real estate market that followed them, the project is still moving ahead, albeit with some tweaks that Patel characterized as refinements rather than revolutionary.

Patel said the timeline for the project has been fluid, but preliminary plan approval has already been secured and final approval for phase one of the project is now pending.

Phase one will include the L-shaped building along Chestnut Street, across the street from the forthcoming Wengert Memorial Park.

Patel said that he hopes to have final approval by mid-year. Currently, the developer is working on the unit mix. Patel said the project “pencils” – meaning that it makes sense financially on paper, even in an age of 7% interest rates – but it’s critical to get the unit mix right, as well as optimizing the square-footage and containing the construction costs.

“As of now, it does pencil, and we have interest from the banks,” said Patel.

If things go well, the project could break ground by next spring.

In terms of unit mix, Patel said they’re aiming for a greater amount of one-bedroom apartments and one bedrooms with dens than originally anticipated, and only a handful of two-bedroom apartments. Patel said that two-bedroom apartments seem to be in less demand at other nearby projects, and the development will be geared towards younger people or older people that don’t want to maintain a yard.

Patel said he expects up to 70 to 75% of the units will be one bedrooms or one bedrooms with dens, and the goal is to keep the units affordable and “actually what they want.”

A focus at present is getting the amenity mix right. Patel said that, coming from a hotel background, he has a good sense of what works – such as blackout blinds in the bedrooms and a workout space with more than the standard issue generic treadmill and janky elliptical machine.

Other amenities may include a natural playground, aimed at kids below 5 – non-school age kids – as Patel envisions the units as providing a gateway to new city residents and getting them comfortable with buying a house in the city. The benefit of targeting younger families is the development will generate taxes but not burden schools, said Patel.

Other amenities could include a pet wash area (also featuring pay-per-use oversized washing and drying machines for bulky items), a community room, and even an indoor pickleball court. Patel said that a coworking space and tenant storage units may also be placed on the ground floor to take advantage of the lot’s slope towards Chestnut Street.

In total, the primary L-shaped structure along Chestnut Street could contain around 140 to 150 units, about 40 to 45% of the full plan for the site. Patel said his goal isn’t just to get phase one funded, but to find financing for the full project, so that phase two can be begun in short succession, perhaps completing construction of the entire development within three and a half years of the first shovel going into the ground.

Patel said that although he feels obligated to at least consider offers for the site – and is open to partners helping to raise the financing – he is not looking to sell it, short of someone coming to him with an offer he can’t refuse. The prime scenario in which he could see that happening is if someone was staring down a hefty capital gains tax bill and willing to pay “retail” for the property in order to take advantage of its location in an Opportunity Zone.

“More than not, I think I’m going to do this project,” he said, acknowledging that he’s put a whole lot of time into it already.

Patel anticipates the project would make the area more lively and help grow the tax base.

“We’re very excited for the project and think it’s going to be a huge catalyst for downtown,” said Patel.

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Davis Shaver is the publisher of LebTown. He grew up in Lebanon and currently lives outside of Hershey, PA.


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