Reading developer buys Wells Fargo building in downtown Reading

Reading-based developer Alan Shuman bought another landmark in the city center.

Shuman announced Tuesday afternoon that his development group has finalized the purchase of 600 Penn St., which was originally the headquarters of Meridian Bank.

“We have six months to finalize what will happen there,” Shuman said. “All we are sure for now is that the first floor will definitely be retail and dining.”

Shuman Development Group bought the property from the Greater Berks Development Fund for $ 2.3 million, Shuman said.

“This has been a big project for us for over 25 years, and we are just looking for other opportunities,” said Deb Milliman, president of the Greater Berks Development Fund. “Alan certainly had a keen interest in building and the time was right. “

City officials were not available for comment.

Wells Fargo occupies the 130,000-square-foot building and will remain so until April, when first-floor renovations begin to make way for retail space, Shuman said.

“The building is in wonderful condition, but it was built as a single-user building,” said Shuman. “The whole first floor needs a massive overhaul to be used for retail.”

The old Ocean Blue restaurant is pretty much turnkey, he said.

“Hopefully we’ll have tenants moving in next summer,” he said.

The rest of the space will be ready by May 2023, Shuman said.

The Shuman Development Group plans to begin renovating the first floor of the Wells Fargo building at 600 Penn St. in April. (BEN HASTY – EAGLE READING)

Shuman isn’t quite sure what the rest of the building will become.

Changing needs

The recent Downtown Plus study that the city paid for indicated that the need for office space will decline over the next few years, a trend that has been happening for some time and has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there is a need for more residential space in the city center.

“We have plans made for that and the building set up for a really nice office space,” he said. “I think we’ll probably spend the next six months seeing how strong the office market is.

Several other projects in the downtown area could include residential construction, including city-owned properties at Fifth and Penn Streets, Shuman said.

“If these projects do not materialize, we will more seriously consider moving to residential,” he said.

The city bought the mostly vacant and dilapidated buildings in 2013 for $ 2.6 million under then-mayor Vaughn D. Spencer and has been trying to develop the properties ever since. Mayor Eddie Moran’s administration recently issued a request for proposals for properties with offers due Jan. 14;

The Greater Berks Development Fund spent over $ 22 million to construct the building in 1996 for the Meridian Bank headquarters.

“There really was no expense spared,” Shuman said. “It’s probably the best office space in the area.

The building has an incredible four-story atrium when you first enter and many artifacts from the old Pomeroy building that were on the site, like its cast-iron columns, Shuman said.

“I love the story,” he says. “If I had the choice, I would prefer the Pomeroy building.

Downtown projects

The old Meridian Bank building is the latest property in the Reading portfolio of downtown Shuman.

Shuman also has:

• Elks Lodge (former Trexler Mansion) 46 S. Fifth St.

• M&T Bank building at 50 N. Fifth St.

• Medical Arts Building at 230 N. Fifth St.

• Berks County Trust Building at 35 N. Fifth St.

• General Battery Building at 645 Penn St.

• Abraham Lincoln Hotel at 100 N. Fifth St.

• Corbit Building at 157 N. Fifth St.

Aaron Gantz, Senior Director of Economic Development for the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance and Millman awarded the University of Alvernia’s CollegeTowne project with the renewal of downtown development.

“The Alvernia project has certainly increased interest in Reading city center,” said Gantz.

University President John R. Loyack announced in 2019 his intention to open a campus in downtown Reading to house Alvernia’s business, communications and engineering programs. The campus opened with the start of the fall semester.

The discussion of returning passenger rail service to Reading has also spurred developer interest in the city, Millman said.

John Weidenhammer, chairman of the Berks Alliance, presented a feasibility study for making passenger rail transport to Reading and Amtrak presented its plan in September to return rail to the region.

Developers considering projects in the city are looking to create retail, residential and office space downtown, Millman said.

“The trend is definitely mixed-use where you combine office, housing and retail in one building,” Gantz said.

There are plenty of opportunities for local and outside developers, Millman and Gantz said.

“We are fortunate to have someone like this who is willing to take on these projects, take the risk and keep the historic character of these buildings and prepare them for their next life,” said Millman.

“It’s great to work with someone from the area who has a history of successful property redevelopment,” said Gantz. “And also working with people outside the region.”

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