Mayor’s wish list of capital projects to face scrutiny

Hints are clear that a proposed plan to refinance city debt and float a $20 million bond issue to pay for multiple projects on Mayor Gabriel J. Campana’s wish list is going to face many hurdles.

Based on initial response by some on City Council, it looks as though he’s going to have to present his projects – one at a time or in smaller bunches – to get approval.

On Wednesday, Campana presented the ideas to a group of “lead partners,” which is not a new name or concept, but one restarted after lying dormant since about 2007.

Those partners, a group that pursued downtown revitalization starting with construction of the Market Street Bridge as catalyst about a decade ago, has been relatively dormant until the meeting.

They included Lycoming County commissioners, Williamsport Parking Authority, a few members of City Council, Williamsport Municipal Water and Sanitary Authority, Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce and those in the arts and entertainment organizations.

Interest rates would be low to refinance existing debt and float a $20 million bond to consolidate debt and lessen annual debt service payments, according to William E. Nichols Jr., city director of finance.

Council president: ‘Not so fast’

“I have no problem refinancing debt and taking the difference of savings and putting it into streets,” said Council President Bill Hall, who did not attend the gathering but likened Campana’s proposal as asking council to buy a carton of eggs, each egg costing $2 million, without looking at the condition of each egg in the carton.

“I would also take all natural gas impact fee money and put it into the streets,” Hall said.

“We’re not going to consider the refinancing package until we thoroughly review it because of revisions,” said Councilman Randall J. Allison.

Hall noted in January, the city hired Penn Strategies/Rettew Associates Inc. for $100,000, which he said was to study the potential need of any state and federal grants. The companies were to put information together, prioritize the projects and say which ones are likely to get grants and prioritize that and go forward from there, according to Hall.

“It sounds like they have had no input and the mayor is jumping the gun,” he said. Hall agreed interest rates are reasonable, but saw no reason to roll it into the bond issue of the size and amount discussed.

“They are trying to get us to refinance old debt and borrow on top for new projects for which we have no details,” Hall said. “We should refinance the existing debt but use the savings to put toward debt service and streets and look at every item separately as a separate egg … Are we supposed to buy the carton without looking at the eggs?”

Projects proposed

Among the list of projects includes a total of $2 million investment in street repairs and reconstruction, including completion of Reach Road for industrial park purposes.

That pleased Commissioner Jeff Wheeland, who said the county remains a partner in this completion of the industrial corridor because of the importance it holds to retain and expand the job base.

Multiple businesses in the Marcellus Shale industry lease office space along the corridor in western Williamsport.

Nichols said the administration wants to pursue construction of a 225-space Trade and Transit Centre II, a garage that has a plan showing space for retail/restaurant options on the lower floor once the Mid-Town parking deck is razed starting in July.

Campana remains optimistic about investing more than $24 million in Destination 2014, the reuse of the non-profit YMCA and block bordered by West Third, Hepburn, West Fourth and Elmira streets, to create a town square with commercial, and residential opportunities.

“We envision 240 jobs and building a multipurpose civic arena to anchor the town square,” he said. “There will be retail and commercial opportunities,” he said.

Space could be provided for the Williamsport Outoor Grower’s Market, civic gatherings and special holiday events, he said.

It is a project that has become a public-private partnership with The Liberty Group, and developer Dan Klingerman, who purchased the YMCA building, and plans to invest $10 million in the arena and building projects, according to Campana.

Klingerman wants to raze a portion of the YMCA housing the gymnasium and pool and build a sports training facility, he said. The remainder of the older and historic YMCA closest to West Fourth Street would be for the adaptive reuse as luxury and efficiency apartments and for a conference center.

Klingerman, owns a building at 210 Market St., and is planning in three or four years to construct a towering office building at the site, Nichols said. The plan is when the building is torn down he would offer it to the city to use it for parking, Nichols said. The empty lot would provide 150 parking spaces, he said.

Joseph Gerardi, city codes administrator, said there is a proposal that has not gone before council to expand the central business district, both north of Little League Boulevard and toward the Williamsport Regional Medical Center and a portion near the existing YMCA, to accommodate for parking needs of the multi-purpose civic arena.

Commissioner Tony Mussare asked Gerardi how that zoning change would affect the tax base. Kurt Hausammann Jr., executive director of the county Department of Planning and Community Development, said assessed value of properties won’t raise residential taxes in the rezoned district. Any developers who build properties in the rezoned district would be reassessed to a higher level, he said.

Gary Knarr, city zoning officer, said the city is proposing the creation of entertainment districts, the largest of which would be in the central business district, but smaller ones would be along Washington Boulevard and in Newberry, he said.

The districts would provide businesses and restaurants opportunity to hold scheduled outdoor entertainment and music. An arts component would be available to showcase local artistic talent.

Councilman Don Noviello, who was not at Wednesday’s meeting, said previously about the entertainment district that it sounded good for economic development, but the problems may lie in how it impacts neighbors. He said he wanted neighbors to have a stake in hearings with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and city.