Layoffs stall Pa. auditor general’s review of Benner Commerce Park sale

Layoffs at the state Auditor General’s Office have slowed a review of the sale of the Benner Commerce Park, according to state Rep. Mike Hanna.

The Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County sold Benner Commerce Park in the spring to three private investors, and the sale came under scrutiny by members of the public, who reached out to Hanna, D-Lock Haven, and Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township.

In turn, the representatives sent a letter to Auditor General Eugene DePasquale requesting an investigation of the sale. DePasquale told the CDT at a meeting in April that he would do so in July, but added that there was never any intent of wrongdoing by the chamber.

The land was bought by the CBICC from the state for $1 in 2005 to be made into a business park. When lots did not sell as quickly as the chamber wanted, due to a downturn in the economy, CBICC spokeswoman Betsy Dupuis said the organization sold it to a trio of investors and local business leaders who have more experience utilizing land of that nature.

An official sale price has not been released, but the CBICC indicated it was sold for at least in the low millions of dollars.

Hanna said at a meeting with the CDT Friday afternoon that his office reached out earlier in the day to DePasquale, who said his office is compiling information.

“They haven’t had personnel to put on the project as they furloughed a number of employees, but they will start looking into it shortly,” Hanna said.

Hanna said the audit is not so much of an investigation, but a study of the sale.

“He was very clear that this was not in any way an investigation of wrongdoing. This was more about looking at the overall transaction of the overall picture of the CBICC and how we got to where we were,” Hanna said. “He (DePasquale) said we’ll document the process and if we believe there were mistakes made or if things can be done better, it will be part of a recommendation for how things should be done in the future across the state. He was looking more to be helpful than an investigation.”

CBICC representatives could not be reached Friday to see if they have been in touch with the Auditor General’s Office or when the exact transaction date will be made from the chamber to Heidi Nicholas, Bob Poole and Paul Silvis.

Hanna said it’s going to be a “wait and see” process for attracting business to the park, but he has not been in touch with the investors to ask how they plan to attract business to the park. The park is in Hanna’s district.

Both Poole and Silvis previously said one way to attract businesses to the property is to reduce the lot spaces so it is more affordable.

With the state budget due by June 30, Hanna said he hopes that Gov. Tom Corbett can create incentives for businesses that move to the area, but that is likely not to happen.

Hanna said at legislative meetings with the governor in the next week, he will additionally push for more education and transportation funding, Medicaid expansion and “modernization” of liquor sales.