Engineers to proceed with Bellefonte waterfront flood wall designs; potential developers need more time

With no end in sight to developer negotiations, the Bellefonte Industrial Developed Authority voted Wednesday to allow the engineers to continue to develop plans for a flood wall near Spring Creek.

The action was previously on hold because borough officials wanted to have waterfront developer input into the plans for the site, but as the negotiations continue to drag out, the delay could cut deeply into the 2014 construction season.

Officials will run the plans past the potential developers before they are submitted, but Borough Manger Ralph Stewart said it could provide for less input from them.

“You’d pretty much have to say, ‘Here’s what you have’ instead of them saying, ‘This is what we want to do,’” Stewart said.

The IDA did not discuss final submission plans and engineering firm Buchart Horn will draw up multiple options for the about $6 million flood wall, which will likely include walking paths and additional space by the creek.

Representatives from the newly forming Waterfront Development Group were at the meeting to tell the authority that they needed more time to make the numbers work on their project. Bob Rodino, of Rodino Associates, said they will continue to try to work with operating costs and all other factors to make sure the numbers work, but they are still interested in the land.

“We’re encouraged, but we do need more time to finalize this,” he said.

Tom Songer, of the Torron Group, was also at the meeting and is part of the Waterfront Development Group.

The competing developer is Ara Kervandjian, who is also working in the downtown on his Bellefonte Mews, 32-unit workforce housing project.

Waterfront Development Group’s plan currently includes a 60 room hotel, 40 apartment units, 10,000 square feet of office space and 10,000 square feet of retail space with parking on the middle lot to cover both buildings.

The borough purchased the three lots along Spring Creek to have the area redeveloped and have a place that would attract people downtown. But because the land is in the flood plain, a flood wall must be approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection and built before the land can be developed. The tracts on the ends are the former Bush House property and the Cerro property with the Ham Store property in the middle.

Stewart said the goal is for the borough to be made whole on the purchases through state grants and developer land acquisition costs.

The IDA also passed a motion that will force the renters in the building on the Cerro property to vacate by the end of the year to make the property tax exempt. Assistant Borough Manager Don Holderman said the borough is losing money on about five renters because they are paying more in property tax than they are making in revenue.

They will also cut off renting services to the Ham Store property, but Victorian Signs owner Bob Bowersox has until March to vacate, per an earlier agreement.