Plans unveiled for former Wilbur complex

By on May 24, 2017

Preliminary plans for the former Wilbur Chocolate plant in downtown Lititz includes a boutique hotel and luxury apartments facing the picturesque Lititz Springs Park

 

By Patrick Burns

After more than a year in suspense, the new owner of the former Wilbur Chocolate plant in downtown Lititz has emerged with a mixed-use future for the 11-acre property.

Lancaster-based Oak Tree Development Group, which purchased the property from Cargill Inc., announced it will add five new buildings to the soon-to-be refurbished former chocolate factory.

Mike O’Brien, Oak Tree president, unveiled plans Tuesday to renovate the existing building at 47 N. Broad St. and add upscale, loft-style apartments, a 70-room boutique hotel, sit-down bistro and small retail shops.

Preliminary plans for the remaining land show a promenade connection to Lititz Spring Park and two new buildings offering luxury garden apartments.

Plans also call for building a pair of condominium-style structures offering 55-plus living with the ability to affiliate with continued care at Pleasant View Retirement Community in Penn Township.

“Our goal is to preserve as much of this iconic building as possible, and we look forward to offering different uses that will benefit our local community,” O’Brien said. “We hope to bring more people into the area to live, shop, dine and stay in the best little town in America.”

RLPS of Lancaster will serve as project architect, and RGS Associates of Lancaster is the land planner.

Oak Tree intends to use local companies in the development to create more than 100 construction jobs and several permanent jobs upon completion, O’Brien said.

“Oak Tree is excited to have an opportunity to work on a project that will create jobs and respect the small-town charm of Lititz,” he said.

The Wilbur site includes the former 179,798-square-foot manufacturing building on 3.3 acres of land and two additional sites of .14 acres at 47 N. Broad St., and 7.69 acres of land to the rear, west of 48 N. Broad St.

Cargill put the property up for bid in March 2016 and had expected to announce a new owner a month later.

Oak Tree, a 12-year-old firm, which currently owns and manages more than 1.3 million square feet of commercial and industrial space, had won the bid but the announcement has been held up for almost a year as details were worked out.

Lisa Riggs, president of the Economic Development Company of Lancaster County, said the proposed project is a “best outcome” for Lititz because it is consistent with the vision the community was looking for and is led by Oak Tree Development “who is local, a known entity, and committed to Lancaster County as a whole.”

“Credit the Lititz community who’ve made the area a place where people want to invest,” Riggs said. “And credit Cargill who could have shuttered the building and walked away for a few years. This is a very complicated project. A building like this could sit for a decade and be a blight as has happened in many older small downtown communities.”

Though EDC has not been involved in the project yet &tstr; other than as ambassador in promoting smart growth &tstr; it could help facilitate e-business resources and capital. O’Brien did not speculate on the cost of the project nor discuss financing.

Karen Weibel, president of Lititz Borough Council, said the project meets the borough’s community planning goals which “revolve around respecting the built environment, while enabling appropriate change.

“We must accommodate the needs of our residents and businesses, while at the same time understanding shifts in the marketplace,” she said. “We are pleased with the opportunity before us, and look forward to working with the Oak Tree team as they breathe new life into a community landmark.”

The property operated as a chocolate factory from 1899 until 2016. Though the current project has no name, it is likely to continue to foster a chocolate theme as Oak Tree is working with Cargill to preserve some of the iconic Wilbur features.

Cargill, which moved its retail Wilbur Chocolate Store from the factory across the street in October, features historical Wilbur and confectionery industry artifacts, a kitchen where visitors can watch candies being handmade using Wilbur chocolate, and a wide selection of products, including the iconic Wilbur Buds.

“It was always our goal to find a buyer for the building that understood and respected its historical significance and its importance to people in Lititz and throughout Lancaster County,” said Cargill Cocoa and Chocolate North America President Bryan Wurscher. “As a member of this community, we are thrilled with Oak Tree’s decision to purchase the building and about the plans it has in store for the site.”

Oak Tree will continue to further refine its plans and submit for initial approvals in the next 60 days. The approval process is expected to take until the end of the year.

There are two baseball fields currently used by Warwick Little League on the property. Cargill has provided use of this area to the Little League at no cost for a number of years.

Little League board members are working with Lititz Borough, Warwick Township, and the Regional Recreation Commission to find suitable replacement fields for future seasons. Oak Tree has met with representatives of the league on ways to create a smooth transition for youth baseball.

Oak Tree is also working with the borough and local groups on matters related to the Norfolk Southern rail siding and the annual fireworks at Lititz Springs Park.

“We care deeply about the local community, and we’re working with all stakeholders to create solutions for everyone,” O’Brien said.

Patrick Burns is social media editor and a staff writer for the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at pburns.eph@lnpnews.com or at 721-4455.

About Patrick Burns

8 Comments

  1. Mark

    May 24, 2017 at 9:04 am

    Great. Another senior living place, we have enough.

  2. Diane

    May 24, 2017 at 11:38 am

    Why do we need more 55+ communities? Stop filling our town with more brick and mortar or it won’t be what it was and is…a nice place to live!

  3. Ed Stone

    May 24, 2017 at 1:26 pm

    How will this affect the Fourth of July fireworks celebration?

  4. Rebekah Christner

    May 24, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    I hope they can turn the RR in Lititz into trails and connect Ephrata, Akron, Lititz, Manheim, Hempfield. Then at the new boutique hotel they could have a bike rental place, and folks could stay in Lititz, bike the county, and burn off all the chocolate calories!

  5. Rodney Brandt

    May 26, 2017 at 6:53 am

    Stack those parking lots on the back end and preserve some green space, then I’m totally on board. I’m also wondering what the plans are to deal with all that additionall traffic? Driving in downtown Lititz is already a nightmare!!

  6. Douglas

    May 26, 2017 at 8:56 am

    As I see it, not only does this project effect the LL fields but will also put the 4th f July fireworks in jeopardy. So lets push the kids out and put at risk the firework portion of a 200 year tradition. This is what you get when profit is put ahead of community.

  7. Mary Ann Seitz

    June 3, 2017 at 10:35 am

    I am glad that a developer has been found for the Wilbur property but I am dismayed by the lack of imagination in the plans. I envisioned a more diversified use of the property. Space for start up companies, artists lofts or entrepreneurial space would be nice and condo/apartment space also. Especially, when Lisa Riggs recently wrote an opinion piece in LNP about making Lancaster County a “makers capital”.
    With the current plans, there is little space devoted to these types of opportunities. Instead, yet another 55+ community and luxury apartments when what Lititz really needs is affordable housing for entry level homeowners. There are also no indications of what requirements will be put on the developer for traffic management. I believe that we can all agree that crossing 501 at certain times of day is life threatening.
    In addition, there are significant losses as well. The number of of jobs created are minimal compared to the ones lost by the closing of the factory. Losing the fireworks held in conjunction with the 4th of July Celebration in the park is another. And it seems to be at odds with Cargills wish to preserve the history and traditions of the community. They are the primary fund raiser for the maintenance of the park. In your article you stated that Cargill has allowed baseball on the fields behind the factory for a number of years. It is a far longer time than that as I remember watching my brother play there in the early 1960’s through the good will of Wilbur.
    I do not know what the solution is to the repurposing of this property but I believe the current plans are a start and not yet the best use for the property.

  8. Jason

    March 14, 2019 at 8:40 am

    Like we need hundreds more people walking and driving in that already backed up space. We will never get thru town. Didn’t we just put st least 3 or more 55+ living community’s around Lititz? Crazy idea! I think it was just very good money for the now no longer small town of Lititz. Im sick to see the farm land dissapeare and more developments going up. Not the small town it used to be. Sooo sad! I absolutely hate this idea, as most people I hear or talk to as well. Have fun dealing with the traffic when it is done.

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