A delay in the start of construction from this fall until next spring on a new YMCA south of Williamsport Regional Medical Center will impact the Destination 2014 downtown economic development project envisioned by Mayor Gabriel J. Campana.
"I can't start this until the YMCA sells its property," Campana recently said.
"Even if the YMCA begins construction six months later than originally planned, the reinvented YMCA property will still be called Destination 2014," he said. "It has been called (that) because the objective is to take the non-profit piece and transform it into a new site, which can be a future taxable property."
MARK NANCE PHOTO/SUN-GAZETTE GRAPHIC TREATMENT
The block outlined in yellow — Elmira, West Fourth, Hepburn and West Third streets — is being re-envisioned as Destination 2014 and would include an ice arena at the Pickelner Arena site, lower right corner, and potential conference center where the original YMCA stands, lower left corner.
Construction on a new Y will take 12 to 14 months, said Dave Fagerstrom, CEO of River Valley Regional YMCA, 320 Elmira St.
Meanwhile, the city and the YMCA, while working together, have different needs.
"Our focus is on the new Y," Fagerstrom said. "He (Campana) is talking about a conference center and that's great, but we can't control the timeline."
Destination 2014 at a glance:
Pool and gymnasium would be razed to create prime space
for retail outlets
Pickelner Arena would be expanded and redeveloped as a
civic arena with ice
The original YMCA building at West Fourth and Elmira would be
redeveloped as a conference center, or it may be used for residential space.
A town square with green space would be developed.
A bump-up parking lot would be assembled in the eastern part of the
block toward Hepburn Street.
The Y needs time to not just build anew but also to market the property properly. The difficulty in selling the property isn't with the original building erected in 1922, he said.
The problem, he said, lies with additions made since then that resemble a "mouse maze." Together, the Y complex has 220,000 square feet of space under one roof.
The middle part of the building houses the pool and gymnasium. Campana said that could be razed to create prime space for possible retail outlets.
Meanwhile, Fagerstrom encourages the mayor's success and wants to work with developers to leave the right kind of legacy for the property situated between the city's historic and central business districts.
The Destination 2014 plan is intended to further develop the city's downtown and make it an attractive place for visitors as well as for business and downtown residential living.
As "facilitators," however, the mayor and his economic development team are taking an active role to prepare the site's infrastructure so a developer can take a lead role in a private transformation and reuse, said William E. Nichols Jr., director of city finance and general manager of the River Valley Transit.
The project, as the mayor envisions, would include a developer buying the YMCA property with hope that the Pickelner Arena will be expanded and improved to be more of a civic arena with ice and to reuse the building at West Fourth and Elmira streets to bring the conference center concept forward.
"Other ideas include residential living at the building," Nichols said.
A parking "bump-up" lot, a structure that can be assembled in weeks as opposed to one taking months by use of concrete, ideally, would go on the eastern half of the block, closer to Hepburn Street, Nichols said.
The other part of the project is creating a town square, with a green space the mayor is calling "Williamsport Green."
"It also includes adding ancillary parking once the Mid-Town Parking deck is razed and the Trade and Transit Centre II building is erected," Nichols said. A pathway and signs would connect those parking to the redeveloped block, he said.
To make it happen, Nichols said he and the team are preparing budget information and a development strategy to join plans for Destination 2014 and Trade and Transit II.
Campana said his emphasis will be on concentrating development first on the half of the block mostly controlled by the city. He said, however, variables exist on the timeline to complete those tasks, such as finding a buyer for the property, weather, funding and working closely with elected officials.
Campana recently approached developer Dan Klingerman about using the original YMCA for a conference center, Nichols noted. Klingerman reportedly is considering Campana's proposal and has made an offer to the YMCA. The Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce also is on board.
"We view this with a lot of merit," said Dr. Vincent J. Matteo, chamber president and CEO.
Any project that doesn't use tax dollars and encourages private development should be explored, Matteo said, and the chamber will remain a partner in the process.
But pulling off a major project such as that proposed by the mayor will take time.
"These downtown development projects don't happen overnight," Matteo said, noting the difficulty lies with control or options on the property.
Besides the Y property and a city parking lot, three privately owned properties stand on the targeted block.
'Big nut to crack'
"That's a big nut to crack," Matteo said.
At least one of the private owners has expressed displeasure with the mayor's approach toward him.
"The mayor came to me after the story ran March 9 showing my three properties as plots of grass," said E. Stuart Congdon, owner of Cady's Newsstand, 331 W. Fourth St.
"That's not true," Campana said. "I spoke to him a year before making this public."
But Congdon didn't budge in his position.
"If he's asking for respect, he should show it to the people whom he is trying to get to sell the properties," Congdon said.
Late this past week, Campana said the project wouldn't need Congdon's properties to move forward, although he wished the businessman would reconsider.
Joe Gerardi, city codes administrator, said he believed that to be true because the newsstand owner's properties are on the outskirts of the project "footprint."
But Congdon said the story put him in a bind because he had to explain to numerous customers who asked whether he was leaving.
"The mayor doesn't know I've put in all new electric service - including heating, water and energy-efficient windows in this building," Congdon said. "All I know is his drawing depicted on the front page of the newspaper that showed my properties as grass lots. So why would I talk to him?"
Family ties to block
Congdon has renovated the apartment next door and is in the process of reconstruction in buildings he owns on the block. His family has been in the area since 1928, but Congdon has owned the store since 1981. From 1947 to 1981, Congdon's parents operated out of the former store next door.
Campana said he has approached two other building owners, Lance Savage, owner of the Davis Insurance building, 300 W. Third St., and Steve Letcher, a representative for NAPA Auto Parts, 350 W. Third St. Attempts to reach both of those individuals for comment were not successful.
Meanwhile, Council President Bill Hall wonders when the full body of council will see a formal presentation of the mayor's economic development project.
Thus far, Hall said, he viewed a conceptual drawing and was given a briefing by Campana, but welcomed further discussion.
Hall also said the premise sounded fine, as long as it does not tap into the city budget, but he wants to see more.
"He's never formally delivered the whole concept before council," Hall said. "This Destination 2014 is out of his head. No groups have sat down and said, 'This is the vision we want.' "
Hall said the opposite happened when the city and county planned a gateway to the city and upgrades of the former Market Street Bridge, now the Carl E. Stotz Memorial Little League Bridge, about a decade ago.
"Dozens of people worked together and found ways to leverage funding to make it happen," Hall said.
This past week, Campana said he has invited Delta Development, a Camp Hill-based consultant hired last year, to council's Sept. 20 meeting to go over the project and other economic development plans.