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Ceremony celebrates opening of Bellefonte Waterfront Project

By EMMA GOSALVEZ

egosalvez@lockhaven.com

BELLEFONTE – Local residents and visitors alike can now enjoy a nice stroll or curl up on a bench with a good read along Spring Creek in Bellefonte.

The Bellefonte Industrial Development Authority (IDA) held a ribbon cutting Friday night to unveil the Bellefonte Waterfront Project, a little more than a year after the ground was broken last spring. T

he project, which consists of a walkway and a stone flood wall that runs from Lamb Street to High Street and will lead to the rebuilding of commercial properties along Spring Creek, has been in the making for years and cost about $6 million. $3 million of the project’s total cost was funded by a state grant that the Bellefonte Borough will match, according to the Borough’s website.

Several community leaders spoke about the progress and hopes for it, before cutting the ribbon and turning on the lights along the walkway.

“Tonight’s ceremony marks the culmination of a vision transformed into a plan and further transformed into the reality that you see before you,” said Bellefonte Mayor Tom Wilson. “With the assistance and vision of the speakers … and the work of many that are here tonight, Bellefonte turns a page and shines a new light to the future, while embracing the history of the past.”

In February 2006, the historic Bush House hotel burned to the ground at its location next to the waterfront. The lot still remains vacant but Bellefonte Borough expects commerce to return next to the waterfront.

“The final piece of this will be when we see more than green grass on this site, when we see commerce again on this site and we see people coming here daily to work or to play or whatever it might be,” said State Sen. Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte. “That’s us taking control of our destiny, that’s saying, ‘You know what, we’re willing to come up with a few tax dollars to make things change so that private enterprise can come back and invest in our communities.'”

Sen. Corman and State Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, worked together to help secure funds for the project with a Department of Community and Economic Development grant. Those funds led to the development of a Steering Committee made up of several local residents, business owners and elected officials, which met in 2009 and helped guide the project for Delta Development Group, Inc. who did a feasibility study, according to the Bellefonte Borough’s website.

“We’re glad to bring some of your tax dollars back home,” said Rep. Benninghoff. “We hear about projects happening other places; this is the beginning of a lot of great things happening here in downtown. We see the streetscape more beautiful and better, and lots of good walking you can do along here, no excuse not to exercise, fish, boat, and do all kinds of great things. This is Americana at its best and you get to have it right in your town.”

Centre County was founded in 1800, and as a 216-year-old endeavor, local government is fortunate to have the Centre County Courthouse and Willowbank Building right in Bellefonte, and the walkway adds another treasure to the historic area, said Mike Pipe, chairman of the Centre County commissioners.

“The work the Borough put in, the work the county put in, the work the contractors did, nuts to bolts, this is a tremendous, beautiful gem that is going to last Bellefonte for hopefully centuries to come.”

Bellefonte Borough Council Gay Dunne spoke next about the collaboration and the walkway’s potential to encourage further development in the area. The project involved input from not only Bellefonte Borough Council, but also from the Historic Architecture and Review Board, Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association (BHCA), Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, and the general public.

“Like all visions, this undertaking took time to materialize, but I like to think of it more dramatically and quickly in terms of the mythical Phoenix bird arising from the ashes and as a symbol of renewal,” said Dunne. “Just as you do, Borough Council looks forward in the coming months to watching development on this site that will promote economic activity and provide some public areas to exhibit the ambience of the waterfront.”

BAIDA Chairman Matt Hill thanked all of the individuals who played a part in making the Waterfront Project happen, including Buchart Horn, which designed the project, Glenn O. Hawbaker, the general contractor, the Steering Committee, Bellefonte Borough, fellow BAIDA board members, and other members of the Bellefonte community. Another important group of people who played a role in the project were individuals, families and businesses who donated money for the benches along the walkway. Each donation for the walkway’s furniture cost about $1,600, Hill said.

“We’re very proud that we’ve taken this blighted area and turned into a destination area for Bellefonte,” said Hill. “I see graduation pictures being taken here, I see wedding photos being taken here, I see engagements happening on the benches here.”

Frank Halderman, vice chairman of BAIDA and former Bellefonte Borough Council president, who had the vision for the project, spoke last about the significance of the waterfront walkway and flood wall.

“Of all the projects we oversaw when I was on council, including the Match Factory complex, the Garman and Cadillac sites, and the upcoming Armory site development, this is one of the projects I’m most proud of,” said Halderman. “I’m pretty sure this will last another 200 years.”