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Allentown’s McKinley Elementary School Stuck in Controversy Between Developers

The Allentown School District’s plan to sell the McKinley Elementary School site for use as affordable housing is a nonprofit agency entering negotiations with the school district and a return to a sealed bidding process for the sale of the property. has been embroiled in a dispute with an investment firm demanding

Investment firm Cortex Residential said its former non-profit partner Ripple Community Inc. “unilaterally” changed the terms of a proposed affordable housing project on a vacant school lot, and has since , alleging that it is preventing the company from pursuing. independent project.

In June, the school board unanimously decided to sell the McKinley property at 1124 W. Turner Street and another vacant Cleveland Elementary School at 424 N. Nine Street. By voting, the district was able to sell the property to the highest bidder who met certain criteria determined by the ASD.

However, the sealed bidding process School Board voted in August Sell ​​the property to a charity instead.

The vote was for Sherri Brokopp Binder, executive director of Ripple, and Dawn Godshall, executive director of Community Action Lehigh Valley, to ask the school board and superintendent John Stanford to sell McKinley and Cleveland to their respective organizations. It was prompted by a joint letter requesting consideration.

The board voted 7-1 and 6-2 respectively in favor of selling the McKinley and Cleveland assets to charity.

Speaking to The Morning Call in August about the board’s decision, Brokopp Binder said:

Founded in 2015, Ripple Community Inc. is an Allentown nonprofit focused on affordable housing and services for people experiencing homelessness.

Brokopp Binder declined to speak to The Morning Call about the story, but told reporters in August that it was envisioning affordable housing on its McKinley site for families coming out of homelessness. Godshall said in August that her organization wanted to build a youth center at the Cleveland site.

At the time, School Board President Nancy Wilt said the vote allowed nonprofits to compete for properties.

But Cortex attorney Stephen Williams said the August vote to withdraw McKinley’s closed-door bidding process would not allow the for-profit company to stand on its own after Cortex and Ripple split just over a month ago. It alleges that it was sought to prevent the property from being pursued by

Cortex owner Jon Strauss declined to comment and forwarded questions to Williams.

Cortex alleges that Ripple tried to demote the company to a property management role, despite an agreement to give Cortex a controlling stake in an affordable housing project. never signed a formal contract.

As a result, Cortex representatives announced plans to independently pursue affordable housing projects in McKinley in July, Williams said.

A board vote the following month rendered the company ineligible for candidacy.

Since then, the school district has decided to begin negotiations with nonprofits on direct sales of properties from McKinley Elementary School to Ripple and Cleveland Elementary School to Community Action Lehigh Valley. Stanford said negotiations have not yet begun and there is no definitive timeline.

Cortex also alleges that Ripple kept in touch with the vendors it acquired for their first joint affordable housing project.

Williams detailed the client’s claims in a letter sent to the school board, district administrators and Ripple in September. Williams said he had not received a reply to the letter, which Wake Call read and confirmed to be genuine.

In the letter, Williams called on Ripple to stop contacting Cortex vendors and taking advantage of their work. He is also asking the school district to return to the sealed bid process for the sale of the McKinley Elementary School site and allow Cortex to submit a sealed bid.

In a new partnership with nonprofit Barefield Development Inc., Cortex wants to build 40-45 affordable apartments for seniors with on-site parking.

Alan Jennings, former executive director of Community Action Lehigh Valley and a longtime Allentown homeless advocate, said he believes an affordable housing development for seniors would serve the McKinley Site community better. I was.

In a letter to the school board, Jennings detailed why he doesn’t think school districts should sell the site to Ripple.

“One of the worst uses is to have large facilities there to serve homeless people,” he wrote. “Only neighbors who can afford to move out will move, but if there are a lot of homeless people there, it will definitely reduce property values.

“The city is already struggling to stimulate investment,” he continued. “Ripple should find another site that is in the best interest of all of us.”

However, Stanford University said it has no plans to return to the bidding process where the district is sealed. That means Cortex’s proposal for a joint project with Bearfield remains controversial for the foreseeable future.

Instead, Stanford believes in the community vision put forward by Ripple and Community Action.

The nonprofit leader told The Morning Call in August that the two sites are working together to meet an important need in the community.

Families living in affordable housing units can send their children to youth centers, and those leaving Community Action’s Sixth Street Shelter can find permanent residence at Ripple’s proposed Turner Street location. You can search.

“We are focused on ways to provide more opportunities for students after school,” Stanford said. “Both proposals were aligned with our strategic direction.”

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Williams said he did not have enough information to determine whether Cortex would file a lawsuit against the District or Ripple.

After partnerships with Cortex and Ripple dissolved, Williams said Allentown canceled $2 million in HUD Home’s funding for an affordable housing project that the two proposed for the site.

Allentown’s communications manager, Genesis Ortega, said the funding was not officially promised and has not been revoked.

“The project was determined to take at least two years before the shovel was ready and it was determined that there would be no on-site manager,” said Ortega. “There are still open questions about the feasibility of the project, as not enough attention has been paid to it.”

Ortega said the city would need to reassess the project with new partners involved, but did not disclose who the new partners would be. Toward.

Ripple representatives will not speak to reporters for this article.

Wake-up call reporter Jenny Roberts can be reached at 484-903-1732. jroberts@mcall.com.

https://www.mcall.com/news/education/mc-nws-mckinley-development-update-20221016-3r4l2vj6djd3nileh2tfvpckfi-story.html#ed=rss_www.mcall.com/arcio/rss/category/news/local/ Allentown’s McKinley Elementary School Stuck in Controversy Between Developers

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