Pointing to several areas of growth, Centre County officials said Wednesday that Bellefonte is on the uptick — a rise Mayor Tom Wilson thinks will benefit Centre County as a whole.
In a joint town hall meeting held in the Courthouse Annex, the borough council and board of commissioners shared a series of ongoing and future improvement projects aimed at increasing safety, efficiency and historic preservation.
With the business incubator Springboard helping startup companies get up and running, Centre County Commissioner Mark Higgins said that’s just one of the economic development initiatives going on in Bellefonte.
“There are many groups and many people who have played a role in the revitalization we’ve seen of Bellefonte in the last few years,” he said.
Overlooking Talleyrand Park, the business incubator will bear witness to a series of development projects, specifically the waterfront development project that aims to enhance downtown. The property where the Bush Hotel once stood is planned to house a boutique hotel, a parking garage and condominiums.
The borough has a sales agreement with Bellefonte Waterfront Associates, who hope to move forward with the project’s planning stage over the next few months. Assistant Borough Manager Don Holderman said developers want to begin construction next summer.
And after sitting empty for more than four years, the Gamble Mill was purchased this summer by brothers Chris and Jonathan Virgilio, who own Virgilio Investments IV LLC. Possibilities for the space include a restaurant, brew pub, beer hall or event space.
“We are delighted with the new owners’ plans for building,” Holderman said. “They have contracted with an architectural firm that is very familiar with the property.”
Hoping that future development projects will add an appeal for tourists to visit Bellefonte, borough officials said they plan to maintain and feature its historic past, beginning with the Big Spring — which is what earned Bellefonte its name.
The borough is looking to replace the the bright blue “pool cover” with a hardtop, aesthetically-pleasing cover that sits on top of the natural water source.
Twenty years ago, the borough had to cover the spring due to changes in Department of Environmental Protection regulations and safe drinking water initiatives.
“The water coming out of the spring is unfiltered, always has been, and still to this day, is unfiltered,” said Borough Manager Ralph Stewart.
The borough has received proposals for the project. Next week, Stewart said the borough plans to begin the interviewing process. Ideally, the borough wants to maintain the natural water coming from the spring by protecting it with a decorative, yet effective cover.
Another upcoming project stems from a desire to feature Talleyrand Park and the borough’s history — using the railroad freight house to house the David Kurtz Kayak and Canoe Museum.
“We’ve had kayaking here for over 50 years,” Borough President Joanne Tosti-Vasey said, adding that not many people are aware of how many individuals have kayaked through Bellefonte.
With community members helping secure design and exhibits, Tosti-Vasey expects the museum will be open by the spring.
Parking and safety
In order to make traveling to Bellefonte safer and easier, officials have worked to install new safety equipment, modern parking meters and navigation improvements.
Recently, a visitor to Talleyrand Park suffered an injury and needed bandages. Gary Hoover helped the person, but began to wonder what would happen if an adult suffered a heart attack while visiting the area. Without the proper equipment, Hoover saw a gap in the borough’s ability to help in the case of a medical emergency.
Hoover, who serves as executive director of the Bellefonte Intervalley Area Chamber of Commerce, worked with the county and the Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to secure funding and install an AED in the Bellefonte Train Station.
“Since we recently helped the Snow Shoe Pool purchase an AED for about $1,100, we thought that’s a pretty reasonable price to save someone’s life,” Higgins said.
Whether travelers come by electric cars or diesel vehicles, the Bellefonte Borough has made other recent improvements, including the replacement of the Railroad Street bridge, with help from county and state funds. With plans to replace outdated meters and repave the parking lot by the Waffle Shop, Stewart expects travelers will see an increase in parking rates.
In July, the borough council approved the replacement of almost 400 meters and the installment of additional parking meters that will accept credit and debit card payments. Payment will average at about $1 per hour.
Installment, Stewart said in July, will take place between Thanksgiving and early 2020.