A man crouched under the Lamb Street Bridge to line up his shot.
He pointed a camera at an upward angle and held steady to allow the focus to settle on the newly built waterfront walkway before snapping a photo. A fisherman waded in the water near the wall, trying to catch a bite from below. A mother pushed her child in a stroller, which had its cover up to block the sun, across the bridge and stopped to look at the waterfront.
The first Monday of March felt like a cool summer day and painted a portrait for some of the activity borough management hopes to see due to the Bellefonte waterfront revitalization poject, a near decadelong effort.
Borough Assistant Manager Don Holderman envisioned what a buyer could do with the land, once neglected, in the floodplain plot without a prospect for development.
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“I imagine a beautiful hotel, some type of mixed use building with office and commercial space and a 55 and over condomimum, maybe 10 to 12 of them,” he said. “We want it to stay with what the community envisioned. It will create more foot traffic in Bellefonte and more people that love living here and working here.”
The community’s vision for the property goes back about a decade. It was home to the Bush House that was destroyed in a fire, a business named Victorian Signs and an old warehouse that was a part of Cerro Metal Products.
“The use is important,” borough Manager Ralph Stewart said. “We want it to be compatible and complementary to our downtown storefronts. There are many ways for it to be a healthy, economically viable development.”
The borough was initially interested in redevelopment of only the Bush House land.
Staff requested a meeting in October 2008 with the state Department of Community and Economic Development. The state suggested the borough apply for a Land Use Planning Technical Assistance Project grant, which had to be applied with a broad scope and not be confined to one property, so the project was expanded.
The borough hired Delta Development to lead a study, re-established the Bellefonte Area Industrial Development Authority to oversee the project and applied for a $3 million Redevelopment Capital Assistance Project grant. The early stages of the project, including acquiring the property, took about five years.
The past three years have been dedicated to Buchhart Horn’s design of the property, working with FEMA to remove 80 percent of the property from the floodplain and possibly making Lap Street a pedestrian walkway.
This will be a nice shot in the arm add to Bellefonte, and I can’t wait to see it.
The borough took out about $5.5 million in loans, which is expected to be paid for through the RCAP grant and a developer’s purchase of the land for a private project. The borough and BAIDA have been in talks with three developers.
“I think there’s appeal to it just by what’s been done already, and we’re not finished yet,” BAIDA member Paul Badger said. “We’ve got time to tie up the loose ends by June and make it ready for development. What’s done caused a lot of conversations to start about what developers could do.”
The revitalization of the waterfront coincides with developer Ara Kervandjian’s Bellefonte Mews project and the Temple Court building. Kervandjian spokesman Vinh Vuong told the Centre Daily Times in July that The Cadillac House and Garman House should be completed in the late summer 2016.
“I think this is the turning point,” Stewart said. “We’ll start gaining people back instead of losing people every census and be more properous. I think we have a lot of strengths and a lot of positives here to build on.”
One of those strengths is Talleyrand Park.
“I don’t think most realize how many people from out of town bring friends and family here to Talleyrand Park to have a lunch picnic, to fish, to have events,” Mayor Tom Wilson said. “That park is quite an asset. I’ve got to give credit to the Talleyrand Park Committee for that and (former councilman) Buddy Halderman for giving a big push to do something with that land. This will be a nice shot in the arm add to Bellefonte, and I can’t wait to see it.”
Some people are already checking it out.