Plans move forward for veterans center at former SCI Greensburg; site backs millions in financial transactions
A single shovel of dirt has yet to move at the long-shuttered SCI Greensburg to transform it into a full-service veterans campus, but the property is now reportedly worth 40 times what was paid for it and 240 times its tax value, according to public financial filings.
Work is to start soon on the Greensburg Veterans Sunrise Center, project director Robert Wright said.
“We’re going to transform it from a place of incarceration to one of liberation where veterans will be able to get back on their feet and return to society,” he said.
The project is the vision of David Goldsmith, the Carlisle businessman who in 2015 paid the state $950,000 for the 300,000-square-foot former medium-security state prison in Hempfield that closed in 2013 and its surrounding 96 acres. He titled it to Verdant Holdings LLC, one of his companies.
More than $100 million of private money will be spent to convert the property into a comprehensive veterans transition center, including housing, health care and job-training facilities, developers have said.
No details have emerged for financing the project.
More than three years since the property sold, “no trespassing” signs still dot the long lane that leads from Route 119 to the former prison. A guard mans the gate house 24 hours a day.
Bars cover the windows of empty cell blocks. A double 10-foot-tall chain link fence topped with razor wire surrounds the facility that once housed 960 prisoners.
Early plans call for leveling all but 10 of 33 existing buildings, which for now are heated to 55 degrees, Wright said.
The fences will come down this spring, he said. Construction should be underway by fall.
First will be converting part of the former prison into transitional housing for 200 to 300 veterans, he said.
Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, a Florida-based nonprofit that breeds, trains and donates service dogs to veterans, is negotiating to acquire 8 acres on the site to build a kennel, said Tony Accomando, the organization’s Pennsylvania representative.
Wright said plans also call for a hydroponic greenhouse to be built on-site that Goldsmith’s Energy Management Concepts would use to grow and sell duckweed — a high-protein aquatic plant.
Members of the Hempfield Zoning Hearing Board last month granted a special exception to the township’s zoning ordinance for the project. Steve Jecker, a Verdant Holdings principal, said their approval was necessary to secure a medical partner for the proposed facility.
“We’ve had interest from the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic. We can’t do it without a major partner,” Jecker told Hempfield officials.
The former prison site could be a commercial asset for the community, given its size and access to several major transportation hubs, Hempfield Supervisor Rob Ritson said.
Local officials are watching closely for new developments while Verdant Holdings puts final touches on a formal site plan, expected to be filed soon.
“This sounds very good,” Ritson said. “But the devil is in the details, and we haven’t seen the details yet.”
Documents filed with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission show Verdant Holdings listed the prison property — which the county assessed at $164,000 for tax purposes — as being worth $40 million in order to secure $16 million in financing for a Minnesota business.
A $5 million loan from a small Minnesota community bank went to OrangeHook Inc., a public corporation chartered in Florida that does business in Wayzata, Minn. OrangeHook then made a $2.5 million loan to Goldsmith’s Energy Management Concepts.
Both loans are due to be repaid by May 16.
Part of the complex deal that underwrote the bank loan also used the former prison property to secure an $11 million promissory note issued to OrangeHook by the Carlton Group, a Virginia LLC, according to the Feb. 28 SEC filing.
Goldsmith did not return multiple calls from the Tribune-Review seeking comment.
Jecker said he knew nothing about the OrangeHook transactions.
Nate Hunter of Midwest Bank in tiny Detroit Lakes, Minn., declined to discuss the transaction or the $40 million valuation of the former prison property used to back the OrangeHook loan.
“That’s all covered by confidentiality,” Hunter said.
James Mandel, OrangeHook president and CEO, said his company is not a partner in Verdant Holdings or Energy Management Concepts.
“They (Verdant Holdings) are a guarantor. They put up real property,” he said.
Mandel declined to detail his company’s relationship with Goldsmith.
“I’m not at liberty to discuss it,” he said.