Sweat Equity: a hands-on hometown investment

Sweat Equity: a hands-on hometown investment

No surprise, then, that the Porter Furniture Building on Columbia Avenue would catch the attention of Steve Levin, managing partner of Inline Properties.

Built in 1902 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Porter Building was a good structure in a good location – waiting for a good idea and some hard work. In short, it had all the components of a Steve Levin project.

As a child, Levin loved to take things apart and put them back together. “I liked seeing how things worked,” he says.

That active curiosity and hands-on approach has served Levin well ever since – through his time in the Army, his work as lead technician for the Chrysler corporation, and his current role as principal of the Goodville Notary Service.

You could say his latest venture – the Porter Building project – is a grown-up version of his beloved childhood hobby. Having sat vacant since the Porter Furniture business closed in 2010, the structure offered its share of challenges, but also more than its share of potential. And that’s what sparked Levin’s interest.

“I had been looking for the right property,” Levin says, “and this had so much going for it.” From the relatively good condition of the roof and brickwork to the location itself, he saw the structure of a successful residential property.

“I’d done a number of these rehabs in the past ten years,” he says. With each one, he played an active role, doing as much as possible himself – from demolition to finish work. One thing about the Porter Building project was different, however. The scale of the endeavor would require working with a bank. That’s where Craig Portner, commercial Loan Officer for Union Community Bank, came in.

Levin’s realtor mentioned Union Community Bank as a potential lender for the project, saying that, in his experience, they were easy to work with. Looking back, Levin can confirm that description. “They made it so easy,” he says. From the application process (which Levin describes as “a smooth, efficient path to a yes or no answer – because they’re locally based”) to some timeline and budget changes in the latter stages of the project, Levin raises the flexibility and cooperation of Union Community Bank.

That cooperative way of working is part of the bank’s philosophy. “We take a collaborative approach,” says Craig Portner. “Our exclusive focus on this region gives us a level of understanding and engagement that other banks can’t always deliver.”

Levin puts it a different way. “There was so much communication with Craig, it was really like he was part of the family.”

As it turns out, Levin and Union Community Bank have a lot in common. They’re locally based, living, working and investing in this community. They’re always on the lookout for promising opportunities in the Lancaster region. And they’re nimble – not too big to know what’s going on, what needs to be done, and how to roll up sleeves and pitch in.

Those shared values, in part, are what made the idea a great success. “We [Union Community Bank] have a lot of  experience with this kind of project,” Portner says. “From the bank board to the loan officers and bank associates,  we all live in this area. So we’re familiar with local rents, rates, and neighborhoods.” It helped the bank recognize opportunity, he says, that larger banks might overlook. “We knew the demand was there,” he says. “It was a good plan.”

The new 24-unit apartment building now provides moderately-priced housing where it’s needed most. “It’s a win-win-win,” Portner says. “It’s good for the city, updating a vacant structure for in-demand housing. It’s good for Steve, the investor. And it’s good for the bank, because we know it’s a strong investment in our community.”

As for Levin, he’s already planning the next project. And chances are, Union Community Bank will be involved. They make it so easy,” he says. “They get what you’re trying to do. They’re the hometown bank I want to keep working with.”

That commitment to invest time, effort and resources in the local community bodes well for the ongoing success of this uniquely appealing region.