June 9, 2016 — I had the most pleasant surprise in the City of Reading two weeks ago when my friend Alan Shuman, who is president of Shuman Development Corporation here in the city, took me on a tour of his newly opened (and not quite finished) Big Mill Apartments. The apartments are located on North 8th Street in one of the former outlet buildings.

 Alan took a decrepit, abandoned and once rapidly-deteriorating building and turned it into a beautiful mix of 69 one- and two-bedroom apartments. The lower floors of the building will house a pediatric clinic, a daycare center licensed to handle children with special needs, an Italian restaurant, a furniture store and a farmers market. Located directly across the street from two other buildings that Alan has redeveloped for retail uses, including a grocery store, the apartment residents will have easy access to a wide range of amenities.

The effect on the neighborhood is transformative and I was caught a little off guard (it’s not a part of Reading that I frequently travel through). You can sense the vitality returning to the neighborhood and the area is both noticeably cleaner and has more activity on the streets.  

It was an uphill slog for Alan. It’s not easy to turn an old factory into beautiful loft-style apartments that retain the best part of their industrial heritage. Finding the financing, developing plans that make the building viable, and working through an endless string of permitting and land development challenges is never easy. But Alan’s job was made harder when arsonists attempted to destroy the building in October 2014, causing $10 million in damage.

Alan and his team persisted by rebuilding and now the Big Mill Apartments are welcoming new residents and helping revitalize a part of our community that really needed a boost.

A sure sign that things are getting better in any community is when private investments get made in buildings and businesses. Alan and his team are providing a welcome sign that things are getting better.

Kevin K. Murphy

Kevin K. Murphy, President

Berks County Community Foundation