Lock Haven bar runs into problems with planned reopening

LOCK HAVEN – The former Checkers bar and restaurant may re-open this year. But the woman working to make that happen has said the city is at her door. Literally.

Checkers Pizza Plus, 127 E. Main St., included a six-pack section in the back of the building that sold take-out beer and beverages. The building also has apartments above the restaurant.

Access to the apartments and to Checkers’ back door potentially is hampered by what was once “Fallon Alley Parklet,” a tiny piece of ground owned by the city at the corner of Fallon and Jordans alleys, facing the back of the city’s East Water Street parking lot.

Beverly Bower said she has been planning to buy 127 E. Main St. from current owner David Null and re-open Checkers.

However, she said, she did not realize until just recently that the property does not include the corner.

She stood in front of City Council on Monday evening and offered to buy the piece of ground for $1, on behalf of Null.

The mayor replied that even if the city is willing to sell the parcel, a legal procedure would have to be followed. This involves advertising the property for sale and asking for sealed bids.

A competitor might make a high bid on it to prevent Checkers from re-opening, Mayor Richard P. Vilello Jr. pointed out.

The city may not wish to relinquish the parcel in any case, because it houses all the electrical panels and service for the downtown Main Street lighting. As an alternative, the city could lease or license use of the ground, according to the mayor and Councilman William E. Baney. The city could still have some liability, the city manager said, but it would retain ownership.

“I applaud what you want to do,” Baney told Bower.

However, he said, the days of buying a piece of government-owned property for $1 are over. The city had hoped to buy the former state Department of Transportation garage in a sweetheart deal but discovered it would have to pay a realistic price, he said. Any such sale, even of a tiny section of land, must follow the legal guidelines, he said.

Bower said the parcel’s ownership is preventing her from opening the business. She needs it so Checkers can have a proper entrance and exit that it can maintain, she said, as well as control of its dumpsters. What had been a miniature park now is a mixture of paving and dirt that offers uneasy footing, especially at night. Fencing is obscuring entry into the employees’ rear door, Bower said, and that situation also has to be resolved.

The state of the corner parcel has varied in recent years, and it is not in great shape at this time. Bower said she hopes to be able to fix it up and keep it looking nice.

“I’m community-minded,” she told council.

Her plan to become a building and restaurant owner, however, may not last long enough to get past this hurdle, she said. An offer is on the table, and the original deadline for it was Sept. 1. She ran into this particular stumbling block late in the discussions and contacted the city about it one business day later – on Sept. 3.

But that was less than a week ago, the mayor said, not enough time to have anything in place for council’s meeting on Monday.

City Manager Richard W. Marcinkevage said he has asked the city solicitor about the process for selling the ground but has not received an answer yet.

Vilello said that sometime next week, the city manager should know what all the steps are for selling, leasing or licensing.

“We have to do everything in our power to make it move quickly,” Councilwoman Lynda A. Carey said. As a downtown business owner herself, she said the loss of Checkers has left an empty space on Main Street that “looks like a mess.”

“Nobody wants to see Checkers open more than I do,” Vilello said. “I hope they have the same recipe for steaks because they had one of the best steaks in Lock Haven.”

“It won’t open anytime soon if I can’t get it opened right away,” Bower said.

The leasing or licensing process might be faster to implement than a public sale, council heard. If all goes well, the mayor said, the ground might be leased in two weeks or a month from now.

A week could work, Bower said, but a month is probably too long for the offer that is now in play.