Three friends who attended Lancaster Mennonite High School are investing $10 million to develop more than 100 high-end apartments here for millennials.
Last week they bought five apartment buildings in downtown Lancaster, with plans to expand three and upgrade all five, in a venture costing about $6 million.
At the same time, the trio is proposing an apartment building costing about $4 million in Columbia Borough, with an anticipated opening of late 2018.
The projects come as the county struggles with a lack of rental housing of all types.
“We’re really passionate about building (housing) for young people in great, walkable locations,” said Benjamin Myers, 36, of Falls Church, Virginia.
Joining him in the projects are his brother Brian, 40, of Lancaster, and their friend, Preston Eberly, 34, of Conestoga.
The brothers are Lancaster Mennonite graduates; Eberly went there until his senior year, when his family moved to Virginia.
Between the three, they have more than 35 years of experience in construction, development and investment.
They had done some real estate projects together on the side in the past, then decided to formalize their business ties this summer by establishing Eberly Myers LLC.
“We all had various levels of engagement (in real estate) and just decided to put that knowledge base to work for ourselves,” said Benjamin Myers, who has a master’s degree in real estate development from George Mason University.
Eberly Myers envisions its market-rate apartments appealing to millennials — people ranging in age from roughly their early 20s to mid 30s.
“The reason why we’re targeting millennials is because we think there’s a lack of supply” of apartments designed with that age group in mind, said Benjamin Myers.
For the five Lancaster city properties, making them millennial-friendly would require “repositioning” via extensive renovations inside and out, he said.
The five properties are at:
- 38 E. Walnut St., four apartments opposite First United Methodist Church.
- 209-211 W. King St., five apartments opposite a McDonald’s restaurant.
- 105 S. Queen St., five apartments, next to the former Swan Hotel and opposite Southern Market Center.
- 244 W. King St., 14 apartments next to The Umbrella Works apartment building.
- 45 S. Prince St., nine apartments, opposite St. Mary’s Catholic Church.
The five buildings total 37 apartments, plus four store fronts.
The apartments are 95 percent occupied, said Benjamin Myers.
Over the next several years, Eberly Myers intends to enlarge the first three properties, probably by adding to the rear of the buildings. The expansions would increase the number of apartments to 70-plus.
Eberly Myers would invest more than $3.5 million in the renovations and expansions, on top of the $2.2 million it spent to buy the properties from various owners during a settlement at its law firm, Barley Snyder.
Possible amenities, Benjamin Myers said, would include common areas shared by the building’s tenants, to foster a sense of community, plus bicycle-storage lockers and dog-washing stations.
Monthly rents would start at about $900 for efficiency units.
Eberly Myers has yet to file any plans with the city, he said. The partners will meet with city officials in early January to discuss specifics of the changes they have in mind.
“We really like the energy in the city,” sparked by the concentration of entertainment, restaurants, bars and other attractions within walking distance, Benjamin Myers said.
Funding for the purchase and improvements is coming from the three developers, other investors and a First Citizens Community Bank loan.
Benjamin Myers said that tenants would have to move out of the buildings when the renovations/expansions begin, but they would have about six months notice.
While the Eberly Myers project would appear to develop the only high-end apartments in those blocks, Benjamin Myers was unfazed.
“I believe these building are in the areas of progress ... I believe these specific areas will evolve within the next five years,” he said.
Randy Patterson, the city’s director of economic development and neighborhood revitalization, said he doesn’t know enough about the Eberly Myers plan to have an opinion of it, but he’s interested in learning more.
“We’re consistently talking about the housing inventory shortage we have in the city at all levels, from affordable through market rate. Any investor who’s talking about increasing our inventory is someone we’d like to talk to,” he said.
Raze then build
In Columbia Borough, Eberly Myers would raze an empty, four-unit apartment building at 134 Locust St. and construct a four-story building there, with 33 apartments all offering views of the Susquehanna River.
Monthly rents would start in the mid to upper $800s for one-bedroom units.
The new building also would feature nearly 3,000 square feet of commercial space plus underground parking.
A land development plan for the project won conditional final approval Monday from the borough Planning Commission. The demolition is subject to Borough Council approval.
The project was hailed by Columbia Mayor Leo Lutz as “just what we need” to accelerate the borough’s revitalization.
“We think it’s great. I can’t wait to see some dirt being moved. ... We think this project could really push us along. This will send a message to other developers and investors to come to Columbia — we’re open for business and willing to work with you,” said Lutz.
Funding for the Locust Street project is coming from the three developers, other investors and a Centric Bank loan.
Taken together, buying the downtown Lancaster venture plus the Columbia project would more than double the partners’ holdings.
Prior to these endeavors, the partners had about 70 apartments in about 15 locations in Lancaster city and county, said Benjamin Myers.
And the partners aren’t done, he said:
“We’re actively buying. We’re not sitting on two projects and stopping. We continue to look and want to expand our footprint in the Lancaster market.”