After sitting empty for more than four years, the Gamble Mill property in Bellefonte now has new owners with big plans.
Brothers Chris and Jonathan Virgilio, who own Virgilio Investments IV LLC, announced in a press release Friday that they’ve officially acquired the 160 Dunlap St. property after going through a yearlong buying process. Financial terms of the deal were not released.
“The uniqueness of the project is something we’re excited about,” Chris Virgilio said. “All of these historic buildings are kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to restore something that’s been around a long time and people love and have grown attached to. It’s a part of history, so it’s cool.”
Real estate agent Derek Canova said he hopes the transaction will be a stepping stone for other projects in Bellefonte, all of which make the county seat “even more of a special place.”
“This is yet another positive step in the growth and energy that synthesizes the historic grace and elegance that is the foundation of Bellefonte, with an emerging economic and population movement,” Canova said in a statement. “The buyers have made significant efforts to research the building and consider the historical and economic benefits and I believe they will bring back an important piece of the town.”
Design work is scheduled to begin immediately and renovations on the 18th-century mill building could start this winter with an opening as soon as summer 2020, the release said.
While the details have yet to be officially sorted out, there will be an exterior restoration component, along with renovations on the inside of the building to “fit it out for its intended uses,” Chris Virgilio said.
The former restaurant has about 7,500 square feet of retail space on the ground and first floors that the brothers plans to lease. Possibilities for the space include a restaurant, brew pub, beer hall or event space.
Community input and honoring the building’s history is a “heavy consideration” for the brothers when it comes to what the space could be. And that means making it an inclusive space with establishments that are synergistic with each other and the community.
“I think the trend nowadays is to cater toward every type of person that comes in the door. I think that’s what we’re looking for,” Jonathan Virgilio said. “And to have it be a destination place where locals are going to want to come, but then also other people. A lot of restaurants are doing that nowadays, where it’s a simplified menu where you can get a really nice steak or you can stick with the sandwich and get a couple drinks and it can be really affordable.”
The Virgilios, in the press release, also said they hope to give people multiple reasons to visit the site. There is “untapped potential” in the unfinished upper floors of the property, which are set to be transformed for residential use, they said.
The brothers credited both the Bellefonte borough and Penn State Small Business Development Center interim Director John Peterson for helping make the project become a reality.
The Virgilios were introduced to Peterson about three or four months ago and he has since helped the duo make connections with the local business community, offered advice and helped with day-to-day tasks.
The project will bring a “valuable asset” back to Bellefonte, Peterson said in the release.
“It’s a prime opportunity,” Peterson said. “They have a nice location with Rails to Trails. Chris has extensive background on renovations and he’s had good success out of state. It should be a good pairing.”
The Virgilios were not the first group with plans to purchase the Gamble Mill.
A Marian Bradley-led group of buyers confirmed their intentions to turn the property into a restaurant and brewery in July 2016. One year later, she told the borough the deal was off.
Shana McClure and Gary Werkheiser announced they reached an agreement to purchase the building less than two months later, but their contract expired June 2018.
“It’s been a long time to have someone successfully acquire the building,” Peterson said. “There’s a uniqueness of the property. It’s a very nice landmark in Bellefonte and it’s taken a while to get the right person and the right concept to get things established with it.”
Peterson, who has lived in Centre County for nearly two decades, is excited to see a romantic, “cornerstone” place return to prominence. He’s not the only one.
“I think it’s kind of a symbol of Bellefonte’s history,” Chris Virgilio said. “People that live here are proud of their history and proud of their town and kind of see that as a symbol of where their town was a long time ago. I think it’s just really symbolic and sentimental.”