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Excitement is in the air and signs of life are everywhere

PHOTO BY TIM WEIGHT The Brockerhoff House is located in the heart of downtown Bellefonte.

BELLEFONTE — In Bellefonte, things continue to get bigger and better.

There is growth everywhere. Whether it’s new housing, co-working space, a convenience store, a yoga studio, a fast-food restaurant or a brewery, there are signs of life everywhere.

Empty storefronts are filling up. On weekends, parking is at a premium.

According to Bellefonte Borough manager Ralph Stewart, it’s a good problem to have.

“We’re very, very excited about it,” Stewart said. “I can’t identify all the reasons, but we’re very excited that it’s happening. We’re trying, but it’s more than that. I think Bellefonte is a beautiful setting. We’re near Penn State University, we’re near I-80 and I-99.”

PHOTO BY TIM WEIGHT Ducks are a popular attraction in Tallyrand Park.

Stewart said that rent in the borough is reasonable, which has caused a boon in new business.

“The spaces are usually less expensive for business start-ups. That’s a positive. There’s a good workforce in the area. We have all those factors coming together. Space, affordable workforce, people who are interested in starting businesses in this area … there is a good market, a healthy market. It’s all coming together,” Stewart said.

Development is really ramping up along Bellefonte’s waterfront, where construction will begin in the coming months.

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.

PHOTO BY TIM WEIGHT Bellefonte’s Victorian Christmas features many Dickins characters.

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.

PHOTO BY TIM WEIGHT A youngster races in a soapbox derby, which is held every June.

“We have a beautiful venue, we do offer that,” Stewart said. “The waterfront, the downtown is very walkable.”

One of Bellefonte’s newest gems is Studio 1795, a co-working space owned by Ellen Matis and her husband, Sean Yoder. The studio recently opened its doors at 127 S. Allegheny St. By day, the location is a co-working space. On evenings and weekends, Matis hopes that it will become a community and events rental space.

“Studio 1795 has partnered with both Bellefonte SpringBoard and Downtown Bellefonte, Inc., to make this space where community connects, collaborates and celebrates,” Matis said at a recent Centre County Board of Commissioners meeting. “SpringBoard is a part of larger economic development initiative for Downtown Bellefonte, Inc.”

Matis believes that Studio 1795 will fill a void in the Bellefonte community.

According to Matis, SpringBoard will be offering low or no-cost workshops, consulting and more in an effort to help Bellefonte’s growing entrepreneurial community thrive. These include a free “Ask a Lawyer” event each month, financial workshops, open office hours with the Small Business Development Center and more.

Like any small town, businesses come and go. For example, Sammi’s, a sit-down restaurant located just outside the borough, recently closed its doors. Within days, it was announced that Cool Beans, a popular downtown coffee shop, would be opening a second location at the site of the former Sammi’s.

Stewart said that there’s a nice mix of ages residing and working in Bellefonte.

“There’s a mix of age groups, populations, demographics that can shop and dine and participate in activities in Bellefonte. We just want to try to keep it going,” Stewart said.

Stewart has been Bellefonte’s borough manager for nearly two decades. This was the vision all along, he said.

“It was more of a dream. You hope that things go the right way,” he said. “Especially in our line of work, you want to see the community revitalized. Things like this happen … you get new life breathed into it. I’m very happy to be a small part of it. It’s definitely a dream coming true.”

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