From small business development to major destinations, 2012 was a year when building permits were up and the climate appeared to be positive despite challenging economic times.
"We're at 35 building permits for the year, with one or two expected to come in by the end of the year," said Joseph Gerardi, city codes administrator.
Twenty-seven of those permits were for commercial purposes and eight were for residential developments, he said.
SUN-GAZETTE FILE PHOTOS
Top, workers from T&E Construction, of Fairfield, pour concrete for a new hotel in Loyalsock Township. Middle, an artist’s rendering of a portion of the Destination 2014 project. Above, Brooke Woodside, assistant baker at Sunflower Bakery and Cafe, with trays of fresh products.
In comparison, 10 permits for new construction were issued in 2008, but the figure steadily increased since then, he said.
"The city seems to be gradually growing, with businesses filling in vacant storefronts that have been that way for years," Gerardi said.
The challenge is to raise revenue through collection of fees assessed to those planning construction, he said.
"We anticipate $200,000 more revenue from collecting permits for construction next year than what was generated this year," he said.
Among the larger projects are renovation of Williamsport Area High School, estimated at $24 million; construction of a YMCA facility on Park Avenue, estimated at $22 million; preparation of a fast-fill compressed natural gas fueling station at River Valley Transit garage, estimated at $2.5 million; and the potential construction of a medical facility on the Williamsport Regional Medical Center campus, which has a construction cost estimate of $15 million, Gerardi said.
"We also have five smaller projects worth about $1 million each," he said.
Several smaller businesses have begun to attract customers.
Among a place to open soon is the Moon & Raven Public House at the corner of William and West Fourth streets, where contractors in late November put finishing touches on the interior.
"We don't want to be painted into it being called an Irish pub," said Mel Roush, business partner with Matthew Schauer, the building owner. "We like to call it a Celtic interior," he said of the establishment that will offer beers, ales, liquor and pub fare.
Schauer said he strove to keep much of the interior of the period building, while adding modern windows that provide views of the busy intersection.
Two doors from the pub, is the Sunflower Cafe and Bakery, a gluten-free bakery.
Down from the bakery, toward Market Street, Carissa Houser has renovated Near and Far, 11 W. Fourth St., a shop that will feature artwork from the local scene and from around the globe.
"We're going to have jewelry and photographs," she said. "We're going to have art from nearby and around the world."
Such an eclectic nature and diversity of businesses may be seen in the permit applications, Gerardi said.
Restaurants include: The Joint, 535 E. Third St.; The Brickyard, 343 Pine St.; Georgie Bagels, 855 W. Third St.; Angelo's, 2316 Central Ave.; DiSalvo's Wine Bar, 355 E. Fourth St.; and Bootleg Barbecue, 300 E. Church St.
Shoppers can browse The Polish Treasures Pottery, 148 W. Fourth St.; Origins Art Space, 310 Government Place; or buy hockey tickets at the Williamsport Outlaws office, 321 Pine St.
Success may be attributed to the Marcellus Shale gas drilling industry, according to Dr. Vincent J. Matteo, president and CEO of the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce. Matteo sees a correlation between growth and the gas industry.
"I think it is obvious that the vast majority of the developments in the city and county are either a direct or indirect result of Marcellus Shale," he said.
Matteo also supports diversity.
"While the natural gas industry will have a positive impact on the economy for decades, we must never put all our eggs in one basket," he said.
The chamber remains supportive of the Destination 2014 project.
Dan Klingerman, of The Liberty Group, 1500 Sycamore Road, Loyalsock Township, confirmed he was buying the YMCA complex and would make the Pickelner Arena a multi-purpose facility for trade shows, sports events, training and competition tournaments. He would not say what the purchase price was. Klingerman said he plans to make the arena larger and add a new facility to it at the present site of the pool and gymnasium building, which is to be razed.
"The arena will go from 38,000 to 60,000 square feet," Klingerman said.
He also said the older YMCA building on West Fourth and Elmira streets is targeted to become higher-end executive apartments and an attached portion to the east of the building is proposed to be an area for meetings, conferences and banquets. That building is 10,000 to 12,000 square feet, he said. "If a company wants a couple of apartments for executives, there will be furnished apartments," he said.
Klingerman's purchase was critical for the development moving forward, said John Grado, city engineer and director of community and economic development.
Campana said transformation of the YMCA block won't require any tax money.
"My objective is to take the non-profit piece of real estate and have a developer transform it into a site which can be a future taxable property by 2014," he said.
"I have reached out to the YMCA to work with them to prevent the building from sitting empty for years," he said. "The city can't afford the property to sit idle. I am not waiting until they begin moving furniture into the new building next to the Williamsport Regional Medical Center."
"The decision where the city goes depended on the buyer and master developer," said William E. Nichols Jr., city finance director. Nichols said he is pursuing grants available from the state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, much as he did with the Kohl's department store project.
It would require $2 million for the arena, $2 million to make a town square with a clock tower, fountain, park benches and walkways and entrance at West Fourth and Hepburn streets, and additional financing to create more parking options, Nichols said.
Another development that took shape this year was financed by George Tsunis, a New York state-based developer. It is a 97-room Residence Inn by Marriott, with entrance on Church Street.
"This is not a typical hotel," Tsunis said. "Most hotels tend to be lower to middle end and we wanted to create a very high-end hotel," he said. "We see this as the heart of downtown and building with something with a 'wow' factor."
The hotel's suites are one bedroom and two bedrooms, with kitchens and living space.
"They're full-blown apartments ... We have about six project in various stages of development, including the Susquehanna Trailways building on the corner of Third and Mulberry streets," Tsunis said.
"We will be restoring and gut renovating that building," he said. "I have a moral obligation to give back to the community."
Meanwhile, Klingerman said he is busy overseeing construction of a Hilton Hotel and two restaurants off the Faxon exit of Interstate 180 in Loyalsock Township. The work began to take shape this summer and fall as crews laid the foundation in the ground.
Klingerman said he anticipates creating 280 new jobs between the construction and employment at the complex.
When completed, the complex will have two towers, one of them having 113 rooms and standing 70 feet high. The other tower will be mostly suites, with 95 rooms.
Klingerman said he doesn't view the hotel as competitive in nature to developments in the city.
He was supportive of Campana's efforts to see the YMCA block developed. He believed if that can happen, especially the arena, it would be a game-changer for the region.
"It has synergy to what we're doing," he said.