Bellefonte Borough Council backs application for Keystone Community designation

The Bellefonte Borough Council voted 8-1 on Monday to support applying for the state’s Keystone Community designation, which could bolster local businesses with state and federal funding.

Before the council meeting, Vana Dainty, the borough’s Keystone Community development coordinator, held a workshop to detail plans for the designation and gain the council’s backing.

She plans to submit an application for the designation, with the council’s plans, to the state Department of Community and Economic Development in late July.

The designation could make businesses in Bellefonte’s central and waterfront districts eligible for programs such as a revolving loan fund, which would enable businesses to take out loans and pay them back with interest to make the fund sustainable.

It also could help businesses in the designated area gain funding, such as facade grant money meant to restore parts of historic buildings, more quickly than communities without Keystone Community designations.

“We hope this will build the economy, and we hope it will get people more aware of Bellefonte and what it has to offer,” Dainty said. “We also hope it brings in new and more diverse businesses to the area and brings the town together with a common goal.”

Councilwoman Renee Brown voted no. She declined to comment on her vote.

One sticking point during the workshop and meeting was how much of an annual financial contribution the municipality would give the program. Council members had previously decided they would contribute $40,000 this year, the first of a five-year plan. They agreed to make “similar contributions,” according to the designations agreement, in each of the next four years to support the program’s operations.

Dainty said the $40,000 comprises her $35,000 salary for coordinating the designation process, among other duties, and $5,000 for expenses. She said the position does not come with benefits.

In May, the Pennsylvania Downtown Center offered a survey for Bellefonte to prepare to apply for the designation.

Results from 363 respondents indicated that people felt Bellefonte is clean, safe, welcoming and affordable, though it lacked the right mix of businesses, progressiveness, vibrant activities during the evening and sufficient parking.

Dainty said plans for the program, in order to be accepted by DCED, must address the concerns raised in the survey.