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Lehigh Valley’s Dixie Cup factory officially has a new owner. Here’s what he says he needs to turn it into apartments.

The Dixie Cup manufacturing plant in Wilson has a new owner, who reiterated plans to redevelop the vacant property into apartments with amenities. (첥Ƶ file photo)
The Dixie Cup manufacturing plant in Wilson has a new owner, who reiterated plans to redevelop the vacant property into apartments with amenities. (첥Ƶ file photo)
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The new owner of the former Dixie Cup factory has finally taken over the Wilson landmark.

Now he says he needs help from the community to develop it into more than 400 apartments.

Brian Bartee, founder of said Wednesday he has closed the deal to acquire the nearly 10 acres for $11 million. The purchase covers more than 6 acres of a century-old foundry that produced paper cups and other products, and a nearly 3-acre lot.

The factory, which at one time employed hundreds of workers, has gone largely unused since Ronald Reagan was president in the early 1980s. Bartee revealed in January he was behind plans to redevelop it.

“I have a job to do to complete this building for the community,” Bartee said in formally taking over ownership of one of the Lehigh Valley’s prominent business landmarks, which in the last several decades had become unused and saw major deterioration — including rust, graffiti and hundreds of broken windows around the massive building.

Bartee said he felt grateful and excited to begin full-bore on a $160 million estimated cost to refurbish the site and turn it into apartments geared toward young professionals and older residents.

“If I have seven or eight years, and the cooperation, and I am able to complete the vision, I know I can get $20 million in [estimated property] taxes,” he said. “But it has to be advantageous not only for them, the county, school and borough. It’s got to work to where we can build the building.”

To do that, Bartee said, he needs local tax help and a state grant.

In recent weeks, Bartee has lobbied for tax increment financing, which would leave him responsible for current taxes but let him pay lower taxes during a period in which he redevelops the property. The county, borough and school district all must sign off on the plan.

Northampton County Council’s finance committee heard a presentation Tuesday about the TIF, but plans to postpone a scheduled July 3 vote on it. Council members said they want the borough and school district to sign off first.

“I would like to see the other bodies’ documents approved and certified,” Council member John Brown said. “There have been a lot of moving parts.”

The TIF is estimated to run about 20 years and would be used to support bonds totaling more than $20 million, according to Skyline representatives. Property taxes during the TIF are used to pay back loans taken to fund some improvements.

Some critics have questioned the length and amount of the TIF.

Also left unresolved to some in the community is an affordable housing offering — about $1.1 million — that Skyline would provide the county as part of the deal.

Instead of Bartee committing to making 10% of the units affordable apartments, he said county and Skyline representatives negotiated a figure based on $27,000 times the number of units that would be. But he also said the money could be leveraged with private investment to provide additional funding toward workforce housing projects.

Officials, particularly some on County Council but also residents and others who have worked on affordable housing, have brought concerns to council at several recent meetings.

Skyline is also seeking a $10 million state grant. Bartee said the financial assistance is essential to the project, despite some concerns about a private company reaping public help.

But he expressed confidence Wednesday, noting a private meeting this month with representatives from the borough, county and school district helped to “clear the air.”

Meanwhile, Bartee was sued this year in federal court by an environmental cleanup contractor, Capitol Environmental Services of Newark, Delaware, claiming it wasn’t paid $277,000 for its services at the Dixie Cup site.

Bartee said he held back on payment in part to verify the contractor’s bills were accurate, and he added a resolution is forthcoming. Several messages left this week with Capitol officials were not returned.

‘Appropriate to proceed’

The change of ownership ends 41 years that Dixie Cup remained under control of a private partnership called WilsonPark Ltd., whose spokesperson, Joseph Reibman, grew up in Easton and tried three previous times to sell the property. None of the previous agreements resulted in redevelopment, which has frustrated officials, especially borough leaders.

Reibman, of Salisbury Township, said Bartee’s company has demonstrated the ability to put together designs and financial packages.

“On the basis of all that,” Reibman said, “I felt it was appropriate to proceed and close on the property.”

He said the property title has been transferred but not yet recorded, which typically is a formality in property deals.

After Dixie Cup stopped manufacturing, the factory under WilsonPark’s ownership became a logistics and warehouse facility until the early 2000s. It’s been mostly vacant since then.

Told about Bartee’s officially taking ownership, Wilson Mayor Donald Barrett, who has been pushing for the Dixie Cup redevelopment, called it “a new chapter in Wilson.”

“We’re excited to see the ownership change,” said Barrett, who grew up a few blocks from the hulking plant. “I know we all like the project and we all need to make sure that the project moves forward.”

County Executive Lamont McClure and the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, which reviews many major developments, have recommended that the project proceed.

Morning 첥Ƶ reporter Anthony Salamone can be reached at asalamone@mcall.com.

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