By Anya TikkaMILFORD — When talking to Jim Zumpone, the founder and driving force behind the Zipper Junction Project, his enthusiasm is undeniable.
“We plan to build a center, a very large community center, a tourist destination.”
His intention is to attract people, businesses and economic growth to the area, to give back to the community.
Zumpone is a successful businessman, the owner of the zipper factory in Lakewood. During the economic downturn, when the banks said he was crazy, he built it up from a small business to one of the largest independently owned businesses in United States.
“We said we’ll do it anyway,” he said with a smile. “I have a history of pulling things off."
The idea for the project started with the plans of four local school districts to build a Vo Tech center between them — Delaware Valley, Wallenpaupak, Western Wayne and Wayne Highlands. It didn’t materialize — but Zipper Junction grew from there. Once plans started to take shape, funding had to be found, and so it became an economic plan drawing upon the area’s old industry, tourism.
'We envision a small town'Zumpone’s plan is to have a center that has something year 'round — a tourist destination that has major sports, theater, arts, and all kinds of other items designed to support its core purpose, which remains education. Its bigger goal is to draw population to the area, so it continues to grow.
It will cost $400 million to build the center, and its projected operational budget is about $55 million each year. The site of about 300 and 400 acres and a building of several million square feet have to be maintained.
“We envision a small town,” Zumpone said, describing the project's scope.
He said two things need to be addressed: First, the big one, is getting the right local people behind the project because, without local support, it will fail, Zumpone acknowledged. And getting support from the right people from further afield is also important.
“As long as we can keep people interested, I’m happy and hopeful,” he said.
The second, important factor is funding.
“This became an economic development project that was a byproduct of what we were trying to do,” Zumpone said. “These programs are based on education but in order to fund them we had to expand it. We hope the schools latch on to this. Individual board members are interested in that, but as a whole it hasn’t been accepted in any way. They cannot use municipal funds to do anything like this.”
So far, Zumpone has financed the whole project out of pocket for three years. He spent this year going to community events to explain the project to the community. The board has 20 members, senior advisors, and resident experts in fields like building trades and software, and a set of blueprints for it.
“We have over 100 different plans within this building,” he continued. “I want people to see here’s a group of people who can actually execute plans.”
Zumpone said 2016 is going to involve major fund raising. And if the project won’t get the support it needs by the end of quarter two, he’s going to abandon it. So far, it has contacts all over the country, including individual and large organization philanthropists, and sponsorship through major corporations and businesses that will potentially be in the center.
But, he said, “It all starts here, so have to rally locals first in order to approach in a larger scale.”
Three possible locations are in the works, all outside Hawley, both in Pike and Wayne counties, and all within 10 miles of Lake Wallenpaupack.
The time line for the center is seven to 10 years from now.
“It’s not a fast project at all," he said. "I’m motivated, I love North East PA, and I want to give it a better future. As enormous as this is, I have been at this for years. It takes long time for people to get it. It’s very grassroots."
More information is available at www.facebook.com/thezipperjunction or www.zipperjunction.org.