Project faces early financial setback

Mayor Gabriel J. Campana’s “Destination 2014” project isn’t getting the financial assistance from Gov. Tom Corbett’s office this time around, but it still may be in the running for future dispersements.

Neither did elements of the city project receive a $12 million federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) 2013 discretionary grant award from the U.S. Department of Transportation, said William E. Nichols Jr., city finance director.

Two consultants working on behalf of the city view it as a minor setback and are holding out hope of more funding being available.

More money is expected to be awarded, said Laura Templeton, regional manager of Rettew Associates, 416 Pine St.

“We submitted what we felt would be most effective in achieving all we wanted to do, but in evaluating they (state officials) asked us to think about the $889 million in applications for $125 million worth of work they can give out this year. The state either issues fewer grants or makes them smaller.”

“That will mean the city will require a larger percentage of state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program dollars, if awarded, to offset the funding of the Trade and Transit Centre II parking garage,” said Jason M. Fitzgerald, senior vice president of Penn Strategies, Harrisburg.

“State grants become all the more important because the city needs to invest now that there aren’t to be any federal grants,” he said. “This is the first announcement of the first round of state money.”

Neither of the consultants were involved in the federal application, handled by Delta Development Group, Nichols said.

Plans are moving ahead at the old YMCA block by a private developer to build Liberty Arena, an expanded indoor multi-purpoose facility planned by The Liberty Group, a Loyalsock Township-based business.

Once the YMCA moves out, and construction of the new YMCA is completed on Park Avenue and Walnut Street by the fall of 2014, the next phase of demolition can begin at the middle section of the YMCA, so that a conference center can be built along with additional space for retail opportunity. “This is what I meant when I said it will give the city opportunity to transform a non-taxable property to taxable,” Campana said.

Along with that, Campana said he envisions the Williamsport Green, a town square space that may include a restaurant, benches, a fountain and town clock.

“It is a project that worked in Morristown, N.J., drawing people from the city to the park to eat lunch, take quiet strolls and be entertained,” Campana said.

The downtown project is expected to create 240 full-time jobs within a year after completion and 114 part-time positions. Once it’s up and running, at least 25 full-time jobs are expected while 20 part-time positions may be retained. At least 188 jobs are expected to be created indirectly from the project and 100 construction jobs, Fitzgerald said.

The median annual wage for all new permanent full-time jobs is estimated to be $48,000 with per capita income for the county at $22,301. The state tax generation prior to the project was about $54,000, but after it is built officials anticipate more than $1 million in state taxes, he said.