City’s ambitious wish list requires thorough discussion

It’s hard to fault the ambition of Mayor Gabriel J. Campana on behalf of the city of Williamsport.

And we don’t doubt his pride in the city and intentions to improve it.

Both traits were in full view last week when he presented a wish list of capital projects to a group of “lead partners.”

The centerpiece of the mayor’s capital projects wish list is a refinancing of city debt with a $20 million bond issue that also will pay for multiple projects. Interest rates are low right now for such a move and would lessen annual debt service payments.

So far, so good.

But these are massive plans, with varying degrees of city involvement:

$2 million in street repair and reconstruction.

$24 million for 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. There are hopes that an arena can be part of this effort in a public-private partnership.

Construction of a 225-space parking garage – Trade and Transit Centre II – with accompanying retail/restaurant options on the lower floor once the Midtown Parking Deck is razed.

A towering office building at 210 Market Street.

Entertainment districts in center city and other parts of Williamsport.

It’s all great stuff, but care must be taken before the city is committed to the financial obligations that accompany all these plans. We thought that’s why Penn Strategies/Rettew Association Inc. was hired for $100,000 by the city to study the potential for state and federal grants to support these projects.

The understanding was that those people would be giving some sort of presentation regarding the city, these projects, priorities and financial implications.

We need to hear from those people or the $100,000 should be considered wasted money.

We also need to consider strongly some of the city’s less-sexy needs.

For instance, we don’t recall a time when the city’s streets were more in need of repair and resurfacing. Is $2 million enough to cover that sort of work?

The ambition and the vision are fine, but these are big commitments that must be matched against the equity of each project and the city’s ability to pay.

There’s nothing wrong with moving at a fast pace, but not at the sacrifice of valid discussion between the administration and City Council and full use of studies for which the city is paying good money.