Donation of CNA building in Reading comes at cost for city, school district

Company benefits from tax break in giving building to charter school

Published: Dec 24 2013 09:11:26 AM EST   Updated On: Sep 30 2013 06:51:55 PM EDT
CNA building
READING, Pa. -

A big donation in downtown Reading is causing controversy.

CNA Insurance turned over the keys to its building at North 4th and Penn streets to the I-LEAD charter school.

Now that it is becoming a school, however, the city can no longer collect taxes on the building, which the mayor said will cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"Wow. Just wow. Stop for a moment and take this in," said David Castro, president, I-LEAD.

It was a day of celebration in downtown Reading for officials and students of the I-LEAD charter school.

"I think there is something bigger and better taking the place, and I want to say congratulations to the I-LEAD students," said Berks County Commissioner Christian Leinbach.

CNA is an insurance company that has been operating in Reading since the early 1980s, but once it decided to move its operation to Wyomissing, it looked at several non-profit organizations to donate the building to and ended up choosing I-LEAD.

"They said, 'Look, we looked at your financials. We studied your executive. We love your mission. The fact that you are going after students that have fallen through the cracks and you have done this well for three years, we would like to give you this building because we, too, as CNA, believe in education," said Angel Figueroa, I-LEAD's vice president of resource and development.

But Mayor Vaughn Spencer said he is not happy about the donation because the city will now lose more than $150,000 a year in tax revenue. The Reading School District will lose another $163,000 each year and the Reading Downtown Improvement District will lose $45,942.

"The mere fact that this has happened, it is going to have an impact," Spencer said.

But I-LEAD executives said the building is 260,000 square feet. The school will probably occupy a maximum of only 100,000 square feet, leaving the rest for potential retailers.

"Let us join forces here. We want to bring retail. We want to bring a Starbucks. We want to have profitable businesses moving into our location and make it a multi-faced approach for economic development," said Figueroa.

For the time being, CNA will share the building with I-LEAD until it moves into its new building next spring.