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Erie Downtown Development Corporation (EDDC)

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Erie, Pennsylvania is undergoing a massive revitalization thanks to visionary business, philanthropic and community leaders that formed the Erie Downtown Development Corporation (EDDC) in 2017. Here, John Persinger, chief executive officer of the EDDC, shares updates on this dynamic downtown transformation and what’s in store for the year ahead.

The EDDC was formed in 2017 to transform the City of Erie’s downtown core and spark revitalization across the region spurred by the Erie Refocused Comprehensive Plan. Please provide a snapshot of the EDDC and its partners.
The EDDC’s work would not be possible without our Board members’ vision, financial commitment, and belief in Erie’s great potential.

Those Board members are: Erie Insurance; Tom Hagen, chairman of Erie Insurance; The Erie Community Foundation; University of Pittsburgh
Medical Center Hamot Hospital; Allegheny Health Network / Highmark Saint Vincent Hospital; Gannon University; Mercyhurst University; PNC Bank, ERIEBANK; Citizens Bank; Marquette Savings Bank; Northwest Savings Bank; Plastek; Custom Engineering; McInnes Rolled Rings; National Fuel Gas; Pierre McCormick, owner of Wisconsin Distributors; and, Roger Richards, owner of Richards & Associates law firm.

What is the EDDC’s overall vision for downtown Erie?
The EDDC wants to transform downtown from a collection of blighted buildings and empty storefronts into a vibrant, welcoming, safe and
diverse neighborhood.

To start, the EDDC and its partners will invest more than $100 million, over the next three years, to rehabilitate 12 underutilized properties. When completed, these properties will be home to 30+ new businesses, 400+ new jobs, 150+ market-rate residential units, and a 300+ space parking garage.

All of this development and investment, along with activities, such as Flagship City Curling League, will transform downtown Erie into a local and regional destination.

Transformational change would not be possible without private capital. Please tell us more about funding through the Erie Downtown Equity Fund.

Because downtown Erie is a challenging investment environment, the Erie Downtown Equity Fund (EDEF) is the key to the revitalization of downtown. The EDEF was formed at the same time as the EDDC and seeded with more than $27 million, but remains a separate and distinct entity from the EDDC.

The EDEF serves as “Transformational Capital,” because it provides the following:

  • “Acquisition Capital,” which is the capital lent to the EDDC for it to acquire and begin the redevelopment properties. This enables the EDDC to better understand development costs and refine the financial pro formas.
  • “Gap Financing,” which is the capital that fills any financial gaps on projects. Downtown properties cost more to acquire and redevelop than what they appraise for, so the EDEF makes these projects possible.
  • “Patient Capital,” which is the capital that provides friendlier terms than traditional investors. This gives the EDDC time to stabilize downtown Erie and generate a return on the investments. This “Transformational Capital” also shows state and federal policymakers that Erie has “skin in the game,” which has helped attract public investments.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been good news for the EDDC, including national attention and a White House visit for its use of Opportunity Zone (OZ) investment. Please explain how the OZs work and why Erie is so uniquely positioned to benefit from them.

The EDDC and others moved quickly to position Erie as a leader on Opportunity Zones.

The federal legislation, which was contained in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, provides tax incentives for investments in low-income census tracts.

Erie is in a unique position to benefit from Opportunity Zones because: 1) seven of its eight zones are located contiguously in the downtown and on the waterfront; 2) there is more than $500 million of private investment already occurring in the City; and, 3) the community is more organized and collaborating like never before.

For a long time, the national media tended to focus on the worst aspects of Erie. This is changing. Erie’s Opportunity Zone efforts have been featured by The Wall Street Journal, Forbes and syndicated newspapers.

This is helping Erie attract outside investments, including a $40 million commitment from Arctaris Impact Investors of Boston, as well as International Recycling Group’s plans to build a $100 million recycling plant. There has never been a better time to invest in Erie.

What’s next for the EDDC in the year ahead?

Erie has so much to look forward to in 2021. Flagship City Food Hall, featuring Erie’s best and most diverse culinary talent, will open. Flagship
City Public Market will also be opening its doors, bringing a full-service grocery store to downtown. Beautiful, modern downtown apartments, with
first class amenities, will be available for lease. And we are working to bring back the popular Flagship City Curling League.

Is there anything you would like to add?

The EDDC wants to create an authentic Erie experience in downtown. To that end, we want to cluster the best of Erie’s businesses within our different buildings and transform downtown into a local and regional destination.

If your business wants to be part of this transformation, contact Nicole Reitzell, vice president of Community Engagement & Social Impact, at
Nicole.Reitzel@erieddc.org.