BELLEFONTE - Imagine how a new high-rise office building, hotel and additional parking in downtown Bellefonte could positively impact the community.
There would be more space for businesses old and new to expand, another hotel for vistors to stay that is within walking distance to the downtown ... and who wouldn't want more parking?
Those thoughts are exactly what Bellefonte Borough Council had in mind when it recently purchased the Bush House land along Spring Creek, across from Tallyrand Park, for $400,000 from owners Kenneth and Sue Kempton.
The former Bush House property, at left, was sold by the owners, avoiding the purchase by eminent domain.
The $400,000 used to buy the land was part of a $3 million grant the borough received in 2006 shortly after the historic Bush House burned down in February of the same year. The grant money became available for use a year ago and set the plans into motion.
"For a few years, we thought the owners would rebuild or partner with another private entity and rebuild. But when nothing took place, the borough wanted to redevelop it," said Borough Manager Ralph Stewart.
Once the borough received the grant, council created a strategic planning committee in 2008 to get public opinion on what residents believe would be the best use of the land.
The results yielded interests in building a hotel, restaurant, office building, retail area or potentially a residential property.
All of these redevelopment plans would need more space than just the Bush House land, so the borough also looked into buying two other parcels adjacent to the Bush House: the former Cerro Metals warehouse and The Ham Store.
The borough has already acquired the Cerro Metals warehouse and is currently in an eminent domain suit with the owners of The Ham Store, the Supinas, which is headed to court in October.
Because they're next to Spring Creek, the properties are in the floodplain and need extensive work before any development can start. The borough plans to build a flood wall and raise the elevation on all three properties to prevent flooding.
After that work is completed, the borough plans to sell the land to a developer.
However, the borough will only sell two properties - the Bush House land and the Cerro warehouse - if the eminent domain suit for the third property continues.
"In the event that we go through eminent domain and get the property through that process we will retain that piece, as a public use property, such as a parking lot, and still sell the other two," Stewart said. "We will still run the flood wall along all three properties and raise the elevation of all three properties."
The borough hopes to have all the properties by the end of October and then submit permits for the flood wall and elevation plans, which can take anywhere from nine to 12 months for approval.
"Ideally, as soon as we have approvals, we will start with the flood walls and at that time we would like to have a developer to have our designs mesh together. We want our vision and the developer's vision to match up," Stewart said.
The borough has met with three developers in the past about the project and is hopeful it can find the right one to bring the property back to life.