BELLEFONTE — Centre County officials want to know what can be done to salvage the fire-gutted Cadillac Building in downtown Bellefonte.
The county commissioners hired an architect Tuesday to explore possible future uses of the building, and how much work there could cost.
Commissioner Chris Exarchos said the move comes after the county was offered the building at no cost by the property owner.
Exarchos said the county could be interested in using the site for a parking garage or office space.
“We’re looking to see if the building itself is structurally sound, and if it would have any adaptive reusable features for the county,” Chairman Steve Dershem said.
The historic downtown building has sat vacant since it partially burned in 2009. Earlier this year, owners Henry and Judy Haranin were close to selling the property to Lancaster-based architectural firm Engel Architects.
County Administrator Tim Boyde said Tuesday that deal fell through when the firm was unable to find a tenant.
Exarchos said Henry Haranin then offered the building to the county. Haranin could not be reached Tuesday for comment.
“Before we accept the offer, I think we need to do our due diligence to see if the building is salvageable, and if so, what uses would benefit the borough and county,” Exarchos said. “That’s what this contract will do.”
The commissioners unanimously approved a $7,500 pact with State College-based architect Albert Drobka for the work.
Dershem expressed concern that the community could permanently lose a downtown landmark.
“Obviously, once you tear down a structure like the Cadillac Building, nothing like it will be back in its place,” Dershem said. “And you wonder if anything will be back in its place.
“That’s really the cycle of blight that occurs in a lot of communities,” he continued. “And we’re concerned one of the showcase buildings in Bellefonte meets that criteria.”
Exarchos called a string of fires to historic Bellefonte buildings unfortunate, and said the county has a responsibility to avoid blight.
“As the county government, I suppose we do have some responsibility to make sure the county seat doesn’t deteriorate, become blighted,” he said.
Renovating the building could also fill needs for the county — including alleviating tight parking in downtown Bellefonte, Exarchos said.
“We are in desperate need of a senior center in downtown Bellefonte, but the parking is a big issue for us around the courthouse,” he said. “But in my mind, the important thing is if this building is stable enough to do anything with, and at what cost.”
The commissioners have 90 days to evaluate the property and make a decision on whether to take over the structure.
“The property as we know it probably will not exist in that state if something isn’t done,” Dershem said.
Matt Morgan can be reached at 235-3928. Follow him on Twitter @MetroMattMorgan