Waterfront engineers refine Bellefonte flood wall plans, could be ready for action in January

The Bellefonte Industrial Development Authority could be ready to approve a final design of the Waterfront project flood wall at its January meeting, Borough Manager Ralph Stewart said.

The IDA continued to talk about wall development with the engineering firm Buchart Horn during the regular meeting Wednesday night, breaking into executive session afterward to talk to the two possible developers.

Newly incorporated Waterfront Development Group and Progress Development Group are still in the running to turn the area along Spring Creek into a boutique hotel and apartments. PDG Managing Member Ara Kervandjian is also looking to raze the Garman Theatre and Hotel Do De and combine them with the Cadillac Building to create 32-units of workforce housing apartments.

But the borough must first build a flood wall to get developable land out of the flood plain and available for use. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection must issue a permit before construction can take place. The approximately $6 million flood wall will likely include walking paths and additional space by the creek.

The IDA previously wanted to select a developer to incorporate new ideas into the flood wall design, but lengthy negotiations have forced them to move forward whether or not a developer is selected.

“The authority just decided we couldn’t just keep the project on hold, waiting for the negotiations that could go well into next year perhaps,” Assistant Borough Manager Don Holderman said, adding that they will continue to take input but delays are costing the borough money.

Buchart Horn has continued to refine the design of the flood wall and they were able to free up about 100,000 square feet of space above the flood plain, senior landscape architect and planner Karla Farrell said.

Through developer requests, the design will likely include some non-building land below the flood plain, grouped near the Lamb Street portion of the property, to ensure that more extreme floodwater mitigation schemes like ponds will not be necessary. The developers agreed that they would prefer to have the buildable space grouped together moving toward High Street.

The 100,000 square feet of usable space is more than the IDA previously expected, and member Matt Hill said it should look good for the potential developers.

“I think that’s a huge plus to any developer that would be looking at it,” he said.

The project has been plagued by several delays.

Borough officials originally wanted plans to be submitted in late summer 2013 to ensure that the permitting process would be completed by the construction season of 2014 to build the flood wall. The timetable would have guaranteed the developer could begin in 2015.

But Stewart hopes the action to push the project along will help get some time back and expedite the process.

He said the design should be ready for IDA action at the January meeting, and then Buchart Horn will put the final touches on the paperwork and submit it. He would like to see a developer selected in a similar time frame, but it will not be crucial to move forward.