Opportunity zone incentives to ‘breathe life’ into downtown Philipsburg

After sitting vacant for five years, a downtown Philipsburg building is set to undergo renovations and welcome a new tenant with the help of opportunity zone incentives.

Philipsburg Revitalization Corporation President Eric Kelmenson said this will help “breathe life” into the downtown area. The building, located at 22 N. Front St., was a project the late Walter Swoope was unable to complete. Kelmenson purchased the building in March to continue Swoope’s vision for a revitalized downtown.

Opportunity zones are located in economically distressed areas where investments could be eligible for preferential tax treatment. Kelmenson said businesses are required to fill out an additional tax form in order to receive the breaks. He says opportunity zones can be attractive to investors and companies who might want to partner with entrepreneurs or businesses in these opportunity zone areas, like Philipsburg.

“There’s a lot of vacant space in town,” Kelmenson said. “Bringing (those spaces) to life and getting people interacting with cool, beautiful space in Philipsburg is really important.”

After learning about opportunity zones, Kelmenson thought this building would be a perfect fit. The building has been gutted, received a new roof, windows and had brickwork done — a culmination of Swoope and Kelmenson’s work. Although Kelmenson hasn’t seen the benefits of opportunity zone incentives yet, he thinks they will benefit him and future partnerships that may develop in the local area.

“(Swoope) gave me a beautiful structurally sound template to work with ... I’m hoping to do a renovation of a quality that he would be proud of,” Kelmenson said.

Kelmenson said he wants to maintain the building’s historic structure while also making it livable. Kelmenson also serves as the president of Reframe, the project’s parent company, which focuses on historic preservation and affordable housing. Historic preservation tax credits are another option Kelmenson said he is considering in addition to opportunity zone benefits.

In order to qualify for the opportunity zone benefits, Kelmenson has 30 months to complete the renovations. He wants to make the building “occupied and usable” as soon as possible by creating commercial and residential space. Contempo Jewelry will be located on the first floor of the building.

Located at The Makery in State College, Contempo Jewelry owner and designer Staci Egan said she is excited to relocate to Philipsburg. The first floor of the building will serve as the commercial space where she plans to move into by Aug. 1.

“(I am) looking forward to having a space for my studio, showroom, classes, events and pop-ups,” she said.

Eventually, Kelmenson plans to build apartments on the upper floors of the building. Until those spaces are completed, Kelmenson said he is considering using the upper floors as pop-up gallery space for four to six months.

The building on the corner of Front Street and East Laurel Street in downtown Philipsburg. Abby Drey

Centre County’s four opportunity zones are located in Bellefonte, State College, Philipsburg and Rush Township. Kelmenson said they address “stark economic inequality” by encouraging investment, which is something he’d like to see more of in Philipsburg.

“If you’re an entrepreneur who wants affordable space and to be a part of a great community, Philipsburg is a great candidate for a place to set up shop in Centre County,” he said.

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Marley Parish reports on local government for the Centre Daily Times. She grew up in Slippery Rock and graduated from Allegheny College.