“It’s a celebration of economic development success,” said Jerry Alonge, chief executive officer of Vantage Health Care.
On Thursday, Vantage marks the opening of its new national $7 million headquarters building at 1305 S. Main St. in Meadville — having completed renovations to a three-story, 66,000-square-foot building that once was a boiler factory and later a manufacturing plant for Talon Inc., the Meadville-based zipper maker.
The project was carried out over the past 18 months by Vantage, a for-profit company owned by 13 nonprofit community hospitals in the region, including Meadville Medical Center and Titusville Area Hospital.
It puts about 250 of Vantage’s approximately 400 employees working within the city, Alonge said. In mid-September, workers moved into the building that houses nine of the firm’s 12 divisions. Started in 1984, Vantage provides numerous traditionally outsourced health care services including group
purchasing of supplies, an institutional pharmacy providing service to a variety of facilities, a linen service, home infusion services and others to serve its hospital-based partnership.
“We want to make Meadville home,” said Alonge. “It’s the quality of life — the small-town atmosphere. The building represented a tremendous history. Meadville needs economic development. What if everybody moves out of Meadville?”
In turn, the city of Meadville is grateful for the investment, Mayor Richard Friedberg agreed.
“I think it’s terrific,” said Friedberg. “I’d only be happier if we had 25 more of them. The more we can grow the tax base, the less we have to raise (taxes) on existing taxpayers.”
The site does have Keystone Opportunity Zone designation that expires at the end of 2010. A Keystone Opportunity Zone designation eliminates virtually all business taxes for a given time period. A proposed extension of the KOZ designation was turned down by Meadville City Council in May, though Crawford Central School District and Crawford County had approved it.
“We had a responsibility to ask for it, but the city could not afford to do it and we understand that,” Alonge said. “These are not the best economic times.”
Vantage officials had estimated that the company would be able to save about $280,000 in city taxes under a KOZ instead of a Local Economic Revitalization and Tax Assistance (LERTA) designation. The $280,000 is equal to about two mills of city real estate tax.
The property does have a LERTA designation allowing Vantage to ease into the payment of property taxes on improvements to the property over a five-year period. The LERTA for the Vantage property will begin for five years once the KOZ designation expires Dec. 31, 2010.
Vantage began looking for a new headquarters in 2006 as it was outgrowing space it had in the Griffin Motors Plaza on Route 19 in Vernon Township, Alonge said. It wanted to consolidate its operations into a new, larger location and found the South Main Street site.
“We wanted to stay in the Meadville area,” Alonge said.
It purchased the three-story building and 11-acre property from the Meadville Redevelopment Authority in May 2008 for $250,000.
The former Talon Inc., a zipper manufacturer, donated the site to the redevelopment authority in 1994, but the site had contamination from Talon’s manufacturing operations on portions of the property.
In 2004, the authority entered into an agreement with DEP to have contamination either removed or encapsulated on site so the property could be reused. In 2006, the authority and DEP entered into a consent order allowing the property to be reused with restrictions following the cleanup.
Vantage has completed the first phase of renovations to the building — completing the first and second floors at a cost of about $7 million, Alonge said. The work includes a modern, window-dominated renovation of the exterior as well.
“We chose a style people could look to and say it looks like a new building,” Alonge said. “We wanted to get away from the institutional look.”
The second phase will be renovation of the third floor into office space either for Vantage or another company, Alonge said. That work is expected to be completed in 2010.
The third phase would be to develop the 11 acres to relocate other existing operations to the site including transportable medical units such as its mobile magnetic resonance imaging machines.
The second and third phases are estimated to cost an additional $1 million, he said.
The lobby of the newly renovated building notes history of both the site and the community, according to Mary Jo Hunter, Vantage’s chief operating officer.
There are posters explaining the history of Meadville’s former Spencer and City hospitals, which combined in the mid-1980s into Meadville Medical Center; a history of Talon Inc., the zipper manufacturer which operated on the site from 1948 to the early 1990s; and the William H. Page Boiler Co. which operated from 1907 until it closed in 1935.
Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at email@example.com.