By Michael Anich
Originally published in The Leader-Herald
JOHNSTOWN — The city Planning Board on Tuesday approved a request by Townsend Leather to renovate the former Diana Knitting Mill building on North Perry Street so it can expand and create more than 50 new jobs to start.
The Fulton County Center for Regional Growth has been working with Townsend Leather on its project. The only speaker at a board public hearing Tuesday on the project at City Hall was CRG President and CEO Ronald Peters.
“We are in full support of the project,” Peters said.
He also thanked Mayor Vern Jackson for helping the manufacturing project come together. He said the life expectancy of the former Diana Knit building is only two years and Townsend will be breathing new life into the structure.
Planning Board member Fred Franko praised improvements planned by Townsend Leather.
“I think it’s a home run,” Franko said of the project. “Fabulous. We’re really looking forward to it.”
Stitchery Realty LLC and the JC Group LLC –on behalf of Townsend — requested to renovate the Diana complex at the corner of North Perry and Grove streets. The complex includes a 66,000-square-foot building, of which 47,000 square feet is a three-story, former knitting mill; and a 19,000-square-foot, two-story addition built in 1988 with conveyer system.
Townsend is seeking a new business operating permit for the mill area, where zoning in that part of Johnstown is currently classified as commercial. There are no zoning issues. The eventual Townsend operation would include manufacturing equipment, dry drums and a leather buffing machine. One side of the complex would hire up to 12 people to start and the brick side of the plant facing Grove Street would involve about 40 employees to start.
Stitchery submitted a letter to the city stating, in part: “Construction on the building will be to focus on getting it back up to code and capable of leasing out. There are a few small out buildings on the southwest section of the Grove Street building parcel. These buildings were to house old boilers, which may need to come down as the roofs are in disrepair. The remainder of the building will be planned for future rental space for startup manufacturers, potential office space and even some co-working offices with shared services. These would be developed after the first phase of construction is complete and the building is up to code to be leased out.”
In other business, Franko reported the board received a letter regarding a possible replacement of a 185-foot tower project on Union Avenue Extension. The possible concern is the property — lying outside the Johnstown Industrial Park — might be a historic property.
Fire Chief Bruce Heberer, the city’s code enforcement officer, said there’s a tower there already. He said the tower may be replaced.
“I don’t think there’s anything of historic development out there,” Heberer said.
He said the tower height is similar to one existing at the Fulton County sheriff’s office on Route 29.
Franko directed City Engineer Christopher Vose, who sits on the board, to make some contacts and learn more about the tower project.
Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Townsend Leather on Townsend Avenue, which dyes and produces leather goods for vendors throughout the world, has been in business since 1969.
The former Diana Knitting Mill at 229 N. Perry St. is a three-parcel, multi-building connected complex that has been empty for more than 15 years.