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Downtown Bellefonte may look different by the end of 2020

TIM WEIGHT/Special to the Sun-Gazette The landscape of downtown Bellefonte will change in 2020, as the borough looks to add a boutique hotel along with parking and new shops. Groundbreaking is expected to be done soon and the project completed by spring of 2021.

BELLEFONTE — 2019 certainly was an interesting year for Bellefonte and the Centre Region. And there are going to be plenty of changes on the horizon in Bellefonte and the Centre Region in 2020.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at some things to watch as we flip the calendar to 2020.

Centre County

government

In 2019, Centre County rolled out its new voting machines. It also installed special netting to prevent black vultures from tearing up the roof of the county’s Willowbank Building.

All three Centre County commissioners — Steve Dershem, Mark Higgins and Michael Pipe — earned re-election in November. In 2019, they signed off on renovations to the historic Centre County courthouse.

Pipe, chair of the Centre County Board of Commissioners, looked ahead to 2020 and said that big things are on the horizon in the county.

“This upcoming year will be full of opportunities to start anew with family, friends, and ourselves. County government is no different. As a team, we will work on important issues that impact our community such as mental health, infrastructure, elections and so much more,” he said.

“Also, we will wrap up the current phase of the renovations at the courthouse and the construction of a solar panel project at our correctional facility. The new year will see fresh initiatives such as Census 2020 and planning for the reuse of the Centre Crest facility. While a lot of work is in front of us, we celebrate the accomplishments the Centre County Government team achieved in 2019 and are hopeful for our future,” Pipe said.

Openings

and closings

Several businesses closed their doors in 2019.

In downtown Bellefonte, Dam Donuts said farewell. The popular donut-coffee shop closed its doors in February. The shop was in business for three years and had become a staple for fans of unique, freshly-made donuts. To pick up the slack, Dunkin’ Donuts opened its shop along the Benner Pike in Bellefonte.

Also along the Benner Pike, construction picked up just across the street from the Centre County Correctional Facility, where a Rutter’s is quickly taking shape. It is expected to open sometime in 2020, according to the Rutter’s website. Further out the Benner Pike, a new-and-improved Sheetz opened its doors just in time for Penn State’s football season. It also sells alcohol, something new for the location.

Back in Bellefonte, Wendy’s opened its doors along Buckaroo Lane, just across from Weis Markets. It joined Burger King as Bellefonte’s second fast food restaurant. Elsewhere, after closing his old restaurant and bar location in December of 2019, Bonfatto’s owner David Letterman brought the Bonanza subs back to downtown Bellefonte at the new and improved Bonfatto’s Italian Market and Corner Cafe near Talleyrand Park.

Also in April, Red Horse Tavern owners Justin Leiter and Courtney Confer announced plans to open Sammi’s at the old Bonfatto’s location. Sammi’s features cheesesteaks and a variety of sandwiches, French fries and salads.

Axemann Brewery announced plans to start construction at the former Cerro Metal Plant in Bellefonte. No timetable has been announced for its opening, although it is expected sometime in 2020.

Centre Care broke ground along the Benner Pike for its new facility. It will replace Centre Crest in Bellefonte when it opens.

Coming soon

There are big things happening in Bellefonte.

The Bellefonte Waterfront project will aim to bring a hotel, restaurant, condominiums and retail space to the property that was formerly home to the historic Bush House. After years of sitting vacant, the property has a new owner. At a recent Bellefonte Borough Council meeting, members from Bellefonte Waterfront Associates spoke and said that construction could begin as soon as spring of 2020.

BWA is led by Torron Group’s Tom Songer II and Hospitality Asset Management Company’s Mark Morath. BWA entered into an agreement with Bellefonte Borough and Bellefonte Area Industrial Development Authority to buy and develop the four acres along Water Street between High and Lamb streets in August of 2018. The land is the former home of the historic Bush House, which burned down in 2006. Since then, the land has sat vacant.

There has been a lot of talk about developing that land. Now, it is coming to fruition.

According to Songer and Morath, the vision statement for the project says it is hoping to begin construction of the hotel and parking garage in a few months and the retail and condominium building next to Lamb Street in the spring of 2021.

Plans for the project include a promenade along Spring Creek from High to Lamb Street that will serve as a pedestrian walkway and gathering space. Plans also call for the reconstruction of Dunlap Street into a two-way street and will connect High Street to Lamb Street, adjacent to the existing Bellefonte mill race that fed water to the historic Gamble Mill.

The proposed five-story hotel will include approximately 80 guest rooms, along with meeting and banquet rooms and a restaurant. The hotel will be constructed at High and Dunlap streets with the main entrance on Dunlap Street, where a parking area with a covered patio is expected to be constructed. There are also plans for a pedestrian entrance from High Street.

The hotel would provide another location in Centre County for Penn State football fans to stay during the season, as there is always a need for hotel rooms from August through November in the Centre Region.

The project is just one of many big things happening in Bellefonte. Developers are looking to re-open the Gamble Mill, a once-popular historic restaurant that has sat vacant for several years.

Bellefonte mayor Tom Wilson agreed that big things are happening in the county seat.

“Bellefonte is, and has been, on a positive trajectory. Much of the credit for the towns continued forward movement should be given to an influx of young professionals that have embraced this community and have invested their time and talents to help the ‘Fonte become a ‘go to place,’ “ Wilson said. “We still have plenty of work to do in this area. Our wish list includes the building of a proper band shell in Tallyrand Park. The building of the multi-purpose greenway trail between Bellefonte and Milesburg. Plus, the development and implementation of an artistic initiative called Water Fire along the waterfront.”

According to Wilson, it’s important that Bellefonte’s history is preserved as areas of the town are re-developed.

“Historic preservation is always important in a town such as Bellefonte,” he noted. “We will endeavor to preserve our historic structures while also keeping in touch with projects that will high light our natural assets. Much of the economic future of Bellefonte lies in the area of outdoor recreation tourism — fishing, boating, biking and hiking.”

Rogers Stadium

The finishing touches were put on Rogers Stadium just in time for fall sports season at Bellefonte Area High School. The football team along with the boys’ and girls’ soccer teams played their seasons there. The new-and-improved version of Rogers Stadium features state of the art turf, locker rooms, new restrooms, two concession stands, new press box and ticket booth. The stadium was packed most Friday nights during the football season as fans watched the Red Raiders steamroll opponents on their way to a District 6 championship and an appearance in the PIAA State Playoffs.

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