Hermitage Town Center to Develop ‘Sense of Place’

HERMITAGE, Pa. – This city of just over 16,000 doesn’t have a traditional downtown, but a project in the planning stages will give it one.

The Hermitage Town Center project will involve infrastructure upgrades around the Shenango Valley Mall, which this summer LRC Realty announced its plans to purchase and renovate.

LRC Realty, based in Akron, is continuing to do due diligence before completing its purchase of the enclosed mall, reports Gary O’Nesti, LRC special projects director. 

“We’re trying to gauge what potential interest is as part of the due-diligence process,” O’Nesti says. “That drives the timing on all development, tenancy.” 

Development of a town center to establish a “sense of place in the center of the community” was the highest priority identified in the creation of the Hermitage 2030 comprehensive plan, says City Manager Gary Hinkson. 

In June, the Hermitage Board of Commissioners adopted Hermitage 2030 as a “roadmap” for the next 12 to 15 years that charts land use, transportation, recreation and economic development.

According to the plan, “With the retail commercial landscape changing, the time is ripe to focus on creating a walkable city center that is home to open public space, a mixture of uses and entertainment. Placing a higher emphasis on building form and design can help to establish an identity for what it is now, the geographic center of the city.” 

With the presence of the mall, which is “clearly in a distressed condition,” incorporating that into the town center concept made sense, Hinkson says. “We’re working hard to bring that concept to implementation,” he says. 

Recently, Hermitage received a $730,000 grant from the Commonwealth Financing Authority and Multimodal Transportation Fund for infrastructure improvements at the mall property, including rebuilding a roadway to connect East State Street and North Hermitage Road. 

The money should enhance vehicular and pedestrian access, Hinkson says. 

 “Having a mixed-use, regional town center as a gathering place for our community is going to be truly transformative. But before the buildings, businesses and amenities can go up, the essential infrastructure needs to be in place,” state Rep. Mark Longietti said Nov. 12 in announcing the grant.  

This summer, the city also received a $2.5 million Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant to help bring about the town center concept. Those funds can be used to acquire property and infrastructure as well as pay for construction and other costs related to the project. 

The city will work with LRC – should it move forward with its purchase of the mall property – on plans to use the grant money, Hinkson says. 

Under the best-case scenario, work on the project would begin next year, perhaps in the spring. “My hope is that it would be sometime early to mid-2020,” Hickson says. 

As LRC conducts its due diligence, the developer is also in discussions with potential tenants, O’Nesti says. Evaluating tenancy is “a long-term process [that] evolves from day to day and week to week,” he says.  

“What ends up happening is we begin to put these projects together as interest evolves from interest to letters of intent,” he continues. Then the developing plans and designing architecture becomes part of the process, followed by in-depth discussions with the community. 

The process can take two to three years, and is “very dynamic.” 

“It takes a significant amount of time to move it forward and to put it in a position to execute,” O’Nesti says. “There are so many moving parts and it is always very fluid in the process.”  

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