Will the city get a new civic arena for indoor trade shows, sporting events and business expos? Or how about a downtown conference center to invite businesses and non-profit organizations to stay here and shop overnight?
Laura Templeton and Jason M. Fitzgerald, two consultants for the city on the Destination 2014 project, said they believe both facilities will materialize.
"We're trying hard to make it happen," said Fitzgerald, senior vice president of Penn Strategies, a Harrisburg-based firm teaming up with Rettew Associates, 418 Pine St., where Templeton is a senior vice president.
Mayor Gabriel J. Campana sees Destination 2014 as a public-private partnership to create taxable properties by reusing the YMCA building on Elmira Street and the block bound by Elmira, West Third, Hepburn and West Fourth streets.
The goal is to not let that block sit vacant once the YMCA relocates to Park Avenue, where ground was broken last summer.
"It means a building isn't going to sit and rot away and become a blighted property," said Fitzgerald. "I think it's why Gov. Tom Corbett and the administration in Harrisburg took such an interest in the project, and because of the potential job opportunities."
Council eager to learn downtown project details
By MARK MARONEY
City Council is all ears as the administration prepares to provide a master plan describing the Destination 2014 and Trade and Transit Centre Two projects.
"Obviously, it's a good thing for us to look at, but we have not been presented formally with a project plan," Council President Bill Hall said. "So far, we've seen conceptual drawings."
Mayor Gabriel J. Campana and consultants with Penn Strategies of Harrisburg and Rettew Associates, 418 Pine St., are expected to provide an overview of the project to convert the YMCA building and Pickelner Arena on Elmira Street into a civic arena and conference center on March 6.
"The 2014 concept certainly reflects enthusiasm and foresight, qualities that are difficult to ignore, as are secured funds," Councilman Don Noviello said. "Any proposal with the potential to address issues of redevelopment, recovery, preservation and expansion has to be given respect."
Noviello also sees benefit to involve stakeholders, many of whom are locals who want influence, input or accommodations.
"There needs to be a balance in the decision-making process so as to produce the best possible outcome with the least possible controversy," he said.
"The administration's ideas are evolving and I look forward to hearing them," said Councilman Jonathan Williamson.
"My first priority would be to make sure there is enough parking for the Community Arts Center and the movie theatre," Councilwoman Bonnie Katz said.
She added people aren't accustomed to walking long distances and would get frustrated looking for a space to park when they are going to shows or dinner.
Councilman Randy J. Allison, chairman of the economic revitalization committee, remains cautious about the use of tax dollars.
"I will be very careful and exercise due diligence, as a member of council, with any expenditure of taxpayer money, be it state or local," Allison said.
Allison said the continual evolution of talks regarding downtown parking needs and uncertainty where grant money should go and for what purpose likely will be part of the discussion.
"Council must be certain it doesn't involve the city with any project that will commit the city to any future ongoing expenditures related to any development projects or plans," Allison said.
"We have seen the architect's rendering of the proposed project brought forth by the administration," said Councilman N. Clifford "Skip" Smith, adding a lot of work, including property acquisitions and developers' plans must be completed.
"I think the project is definitely worthwhile as other cities have town squares and it will definitely beautify the downtown area and bring additional retail to the downtown area," he said.
Smith said he won't vote for any part of the project requiring any city money to be used.
"I will also thoroughly go over any contracts connected with the project to make certain the city is not on the hook for any dollars other than the dollars gained through grants," he said.
Smith, as Katz said, believes parking spaces be provided to accommodate the retail complex planned for the area.
"The projects involving a private developer and city input will be unique destination spots for the city and region," Campana said. "People will be excited to see our master plan for both sites."
Councilwoman Liz Miele declined to comment.
Right before Christmas, the city was notified it would receive a $3 million Redevelopment Capital Assistance grant from the state Department of Community and Economic Development.
"It's your tax dollars at work," Templeton said.
Developer Daniel A. Klingerman, chairman and CEO of The Liberty Group, 1500 Sycamore Road in Loyalsock Township, bought the YMCA property and former Pickelner Arena. He intends to invest $8 to $12 million to expand the arena into an indoor complex, with an athletic training facility, and that can happen once the YMCA's $10 million facility on Park Avenue is completed later this year, according to Fitzgerald.
The L-shaped arena would include seating and locker rooms, he said. The attached 80,000-square-foot sporting facility could be used for indoor soccer, baseball and golf. It is expected to have artificial turf.
"Hopefully, this will garner interest from and potential association with Lycoming College, Penn College, Little League and other sports programs and organizations," Templeton said.
Klingerman is keen on the arena complex supporting trade shows, specialty and sporting events but he also plans office space for energy-related companies, educational and health care businesses, Fitzgerald said.
"Those clusters, as they are referred to in a grant application, tend to provide higher-paying and family-sustaining jobs," he said.
The city's portion of the project involves additional parking and a town square.
A quickly assembled parking deck known as a "bump-up lot" is planned for the West Third Street side of the block.
Campana envisions a town square called the Williamsport Green at West Fourth and Hepburn streets.
"The green may be some of the simpler parts of the project, yet its plantings and hardscaping may lend themselves to giving the public a clear visual and to building public participation about the full transformation and revitalization that lies ahead," Templeton said.
The project may open opportunities for energy businesses and non-profit organizations to hold business meetings and conferences downtown, Fitzgerald said.
"These are people who stay in the hotels, eat in the restaurants and shop downtown," Templeton said.
But not all is set in stone, and the drawings and ideas are up for discussion, the consultants said.
"We're going to be in talks with council, Klingerman and other partners," Fitzgerald said. "The talks will occur over the next few months."
Campana plans to present his plans to City Council on March 6, along with the framework for the Trade and Transit Two project.
"Through this continued Downtown Renaissance effort, jobs will be created, business opportunities are increased, and an escalated city tax base becomes a reality," said the mayor, noting that state Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, was instrumental in securing a $3 million state grant for the project. That grant must be matched by federal, local or private funds.
"I appreciate the senator's help toward the town center," Campana said. "Without it, our proposed project would not occur."
On Thursday, City Council renewed its contract with Penn Strategies and Rettew for up to $300,000 over the next two years. The firm provided services in the past year under a $100,000 contract.