CBICC selling Benner business park to local partnership

The Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County announced Wednesday that it has entered into a collaborative agreement to sell the Benner Commerce Park in Benner Township to a development group known as the Bellefonte-State College I-99 Partnership.

According to CBICC spokeswoman Betsy Dupuis, sales in the park have been slow “largely due to the delay in infrastructure development and more importantly the economic slowdown in 2008.”

Park planning began in approximately 2003 and has developed over time with multiple land acquisitions and infrastructure improvements, Dupuis said.

Principals in the I-99 Partnership are local business leaders Heidi Nicholas, Paul Silvis and Bob Poole.

A press release said the agreement would enable the CBICC to further execute its vision and ventures, while allowing the I-99 Partnership to focus on the role of providing “shovel-ready building sites to companies creating new family sustaining jobs.”

The park has been marketed by CBICC since 2008, but efforts were “ramped up as substantial infrastructure was completed in 2011 to create finished lots,” the release said.

The CBICC had a meeting with developers in late fall 2011 about sale of the developed lots in the park and the remaining undeveloped land. Discussions with real estate brokers took place in summer 2012.

The sale price has not been divulged. Dupuis said CBICC is still working through the contract terms, but the expectation is that the partnership will take over management and sale of the remaining developed lots and the additional undeveloped acreage.

The press release said this arrangement involving approximately 110 acres would enable the CBICC to further pursue a variety of economic development initiatives for Centre County, while the I-99 Partnership will direct the real estate management and development of the respective properties, the release said.

“This partnership is truly a win-win-win for the community, the Bellefonte-State College I-99 Partnership, and the CBICC,” said Vern Squier, president and CEO of the CBICC. “The CBICC and its subsidiary, the Centre County Industrial Development Corporation, have worked very diligently over nearly 10 years to bring the Benner Commerce Park to fruition.”

“It was costing us to maintain the property. This was an opportunity to move it to a group of people who will, we believe, keep alive the mission of the property.,” Squier said, adding that the CBICC has been feeling an economic pinch by holding this property during the recession when no one was investing in such sites.

“We’re not immune to the costs that can affect us,” he said.

Squier said the park is now a major asset in the community’s economic development program.

Dupuis said part of the park is in an expanded Keystone Opportunity Zone, which enables tax relief for qualified business owners in the Park over a specified period of time for businesses willing to build in the park.

Ted McDowell, CBICC chairman, said that an important factor in this transaction is the CBICC’s financial condition. As a result of the recession and the changing real estate market, the economic impact of developing these properties became a larger burden on the CBICC’s day-to-day operations, he added.

“The CBICC/CCIDC directors realized the best course of action was to entertain a change in ownership,” McDowell said.

“This sale will allow the CBICC to fulfill its obligation to the YMCA of Centre County and devote further focus on its broader mission, which is to assist in growth opportunities for new businesses, to retain and expand existing companies, and to attract new business entities from outside the region and state to Centre County and the central Pennsylvania area. The CBICC is poised to execute this spectrum of critical economic development activities,” Squier added.

According to Dupuis, several years ago the CBICC and the YMCA entered into a memorandum of understanding for the YMCA to purchase land in the park for development of a new facility.

Squier said there is a piece of the site that is available to the YMCA that is not included in the agreement.

“That’s still in the cards as part of this deal,” Squier said, but ultimately the YMCA would decide whether or not to redevelop the site.

Howard Long, president and CEO of the YMCA of Centre County, acknowledged that land at the park is still available to his organization. He spoke with Squier regarding the deal, adding that the YMCA has nothing imminent planned for the site. The YMCA’s board has finalized a new strategic plan for its three existing facilities that will be released later this month.

“We’re very excited about this opportunity,” Long said of the Benner property.

Poole, president and CEO of Poole Anderson Construction and S&A Homes, said the I-99 Partnership sees Benner Commerce Park as an opportunity to further the economic development mission started by the CBICC.

“We look forward to a close working relationship with the CBICC and the broad community to carry out the vision of the park,” Poole said. “We think the build out of this property will result in economic benefits to Centre County, including but not limited to job growth and development.”

Benner Commerce Park, located at the interchange of I-99 and Route 150, is a mixed-use business park.

Cleveland Brothers Equipment Co. has been operating in the park for several years and SilcoTek, headed by Silvis, is in the process of constructing a building for it to occupy later this year.