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Bellefonte Waterfront Project Receives $1.5 Million in State Redevelopment Funding

by and on August 17, 2019 5:00 AM

The Bellefonte Waterfront project, which aims to bring a hotel, restaurant, condos and retail space to the property that was formerly home to the Bush House, has received $1.5 million in state Redevelopment Capital Assistance Funding for a mixed-use parking garage structure, moving the project closer to the formal planning stages.

When the project was initially announced in August 2018, the plan included space for either a parking lot or garage. The developers asked for $2.5 million in funding for the project, but received $1.5 million. The structure will include 312 parking stalls along with 8,000 square feet of retail space.

Bellefonte Waterfront Associates, headed by developers Tom Songer and Mark Morath, intend to build a five- or six-story boutique hotel with a restaurant, banquet rooms and meeting spaces as the first phase of development at the High Street property. They also plan to build a residential building at the Lamb Street end.

“[The funding] is geared toward a parking garage associated with a second building that will have retail-commercial on the first floor, along with an entrance to the parking structure. It would be a multi-story parking garage facility,” said Bellefonte Borough manager Ralph Stewart.

This funding comes after Bellefonte Borough was awarded $941,824 from the state to completely reconstruct Dunlop Street and create a promenade as part of the Waterfront revitalization project in March.

Dunlop Street — at the rear of the property and adjacent to the the existing Bellefonte mill race that fed water to the historic Gamble Mill — is currently accessible from Lamb and High streets but does not allow through traffic. As part of the project, Dunlop Street will be reconstructed, repaved and reconfigured to be a two-way street connecting High and Lamb streets.

With the grant awarded in March, the borough and Bellefonte Waterfront Associates will install a promenade spanning the length of Dunlop Street, wrapping around the hotel to the Spring Creek walkway, acting as a secondary pedestrian pathway to downtown.

The total Dunlop Street project cost is about $1.4 million.

The parking garage project is a “true private-public partnership” Stewar said, with part of the structure being used for hotel guests, and partly to provide parking to visitors to downtown Bellefonte.

“The plan from the developers is that even though it would have public access and some public use, the hotel would use it for their use,” Stewart said. He added that parking garages are expensive and take a relatively long to time to finally operate in the black, so “out of necessity there needs to be some public financing or public money to make it work.”

He said it all looks to be a benefit to the borough.

“Certainly for any events in the park or in the central business area, we would have access to parking spaces in the garage 24-7. That is certainly an advantage we do see with the hotel going in," Stewart said. "It is going to have office-retail on the first floor. We do see more events and more development in the area and more reasons to come into town. We can see small conferences taking place, special events around the hotel and waterfront and other funding that they have received will go towards the promenade space — a clear walkway from one end of the waterfront the other. That is really event space.

"There could be a lot of events there that could drive people into Bellefonte. And, with the more foot traffic you have, the more economic development you have, and I think we are all looking forward to that.”

With more people coming in, more parking will be needed. Stewart said the formal plans have not yet been submitted to the borough, but he anticipates seeing them soon. The developers have until the end of the year to formally close on the property. Originally, Songer and Morath said they were hopeful to start construction this summer, but Stewart said they are now saying spring or summer of 2020 at this point. He said they are exploring all aspects for funding on the project since it is in an Opportunity Zone, which provides tax breaks.

“I think that is why things take some time. They have to chase down all these leads and see what is the most viable and most attractive,” said Stewart.

If developers do not finalize the project, the funding will be lost.

“There is still a chance that things won’t go the way we think they will, but we are very optimistic at this point.”

This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

Vincent Corso is writer for Town&Gown and the Centre County Gazette.
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