Parking lot negotiations ongoing between the city and developer

People may wonder what the fenced-in lot along the east side of Market Street consisting of rubble and deep pits in the earth at the entrance to the Carl E. Stotz Memorial Little League Bridge will become.

According to City Council President Bill Hall, it is the site of a planned office tower to be built by developer Dan Klingerman, president and CEO of The Liberty Group, 1500 Sycamore Road.

Numerous attempts to reach Klingerman about the project this week went unanswered, but the developer previously showed a Sun-Gazette reporter a rendering of an office tower he said was planned for the site.

“My understanding is the city is working on a deal so that cars can park there while the Midtown deck is demolished and the Trade and Transit II building is built to replace it,” Hall said.

The city would like very much to lease space from Klingerman for use of it as a temporary parking lot, according to William E. Nichols Jr., director of city finance and general manager of the River Valley Transit.

“We’re working out the details and arrangements this week,” Nichols said.

City Codes Administrator Joseph Gerardi said city-based Lycoming Supply Co. performed the demolition and remains in clean-up mode. He said he’s sent a codes officer to check on the amount of dust the project is kicking up and making sure the fence is up and no debris gets into the road.

The site holds historic significance. It was a building that once housed the old “Market House,” where each week until the era of supermarkets emerged, local farmers sold produce, venders sold cuts of meat and fish mongers hawked their fresh catches of the day until the early 1970s.

Dr. Anthony J. Cipolla, chairman of the Williamsport Parking Authority, said he supports the planned use for the lot and was sad about the building’s trusses that were the entranceway to the Market House was not salvaged.

He, however, sees a better use of the property and envisions a “win-win” situation ahead.

“If the city can arrange with the developer a lease agreement for the parking lot, it could (provide) space for 150 vehicles,” he said. “We’re going to need overflow parking once the Midtown parking deck at West Third and Laurel streets is razed.”

After the Midtown deck goes down, later this summer, the $9 million Trade and Transit II building will be erected, Cipolla said.

City Council is expected to review the lease agreement on the parking lot idea at upcoming Finance and Public Works committees.

“I think it sounds as though it is a good partnership with the city and the developer who has available land and no need to construct on it yet and the city in need of a temporary solution while it constructs another parking deck where one currently stands,” said Councilman Jonathan Williamson, chairman of the city Finance Committee. “Council will need to make sure the terms meet the city’s needs.”

Councilwoman Bonnie Katz said the city desperately needs parking but those accustomed to parking at Midtown will need to adjust their habits.

“They will have to park on that side of Market Street and cross a busy highway,” Katz said. “It’s not the best place, or best choice but it’s a temporary solution for a city that will have a parking shortage.”

Cipolla has said there will likely have to be shifting of parking patrons. The Williamsport Parking Authority will work with monthly parkers to minimize the distance monthly parkers have to go, he said.

A project with this large of a scope also might change the face of roads and developments east of the site.

Hall also said the construction is going to require a reconfiguring of traffic patterns in anticipation of the expected growth associated with an office tower.

He said the roads and alleys to the east are a mish-mash of one-way streets, alleys that probably haven’t been paved in more than 40 years and traffic patterns that make no sense.

“Anyone trying to get to Basin Street and its shopping center, can and do get lost if they don’t know the territory,” he said.

Further to the east of Market Street, vacant lots exist along Third Street and one lot is covered with back hoes, trucks, coils of cables and is a mess, Hall said. “If you drive the area you will also see dead trees standing.”

To combat confusion and manage expected growth, Hall has proposed reviewing the economic development potential of the area.

“Some of the residents and business owners refer to that area as ‘Olde City,’ based on its history,” Hall said.

In 1796, James Russell built the first permanent structure and located it at the corner of Mulberry and Third streets. It served as his house, a tavern, inn and Lycoming County’s first courthouse, Hall said.

At the intersection today, a parking lot exists where Russell’s Inn was, a church, and the former Susquehanna Trailways bus depot – soon to be razed and turned into a commercial property owned by Chartwell Hotels and hotel and business owner, George Tsunis, Hall said.

Hall said he’s asked City Councilman Randall J. Allison, chairman of the city’s Economic Revitalization Committee, to take a hard look at the need for a traffic study for streets to the east of the site.

“If his committee makes the determination that this is a way to jump-start renewed interest in the Olde City, then I will request the council release $25,000 from its legislative contingency line item to make it happen,” Hall said.

Allison said he sees the temporary parking solution at the Klingerman property potentially good use, and agreed that Hall is right to plan ahead as the building and others become catalysts for growth.

“We do have to look at development east of the area and develop a comprehensive plan to improve the central business district on East Third and East Fourth streets on up to Washington Boulevard,” Allison said.