Lebanon’s City Council unanimously approved Resolution 37 at a special council meeting Monday evening, giving Mayor Sherry Capello the authority to execute an agreement of sale with Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC) for the purchase of the college property at 735 Cumberland Street.
The city plans to use the HACC building as its new city hall, moving departments and offices out of the municipal building on S. Eighth Street and increasing its presence in Downtown Lebanon.
The city revitalization project also calls for a 300-vehicle capacity parking garage to be located at Seventh and Willow streets.
“Other mayors’ administrations have been desiring to move city offices downtown for many years,” Mayor Capello said, adding that time, finances, and circumstances had never aligned.
That changed when HACC President John Sygielski notified the mayor that the Lebanon campus of the community college system was up for sale.
“Moving our city offices downtown is a great step for the city,” said Council Chairman Wayne Carey.
Capello’s administration had previously looked at a number of sites for city offices, including the Mann Building, the former YMCA building, and a building on Eighth Street adjacent to the Lebanon Farmers Market.
“Relocating would provide a better layout (of services) and more space in general,” Capello said. If everything falls into place, the move-in date for the new city hall would be in Nov. 2021, the mayor added.
Monday night’s resolution included provisions that settlement should be made on or before Jan. 1, 2021, as long as the price paid by the city does not exceed $2.2 million dollars, and that specific conditions discussed with Council are included within the final agreement of sale.
Councilman Wiley Parker voiced his approval via phone, as he is currently traveling, Carey said. Capello stressed that, in the event sufficient funding could not be raised, she would abandon the project, rather than raise taxes to pay for it.
“There is a need for funding, but the goal can be accomplished without raising taxes,” Capello said.
City police and fire departments would also be receiving significantly larger spaces as part of the move.
While $2 million for the project has been received from the state, through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP), another $3.87 million is needed to renovate the HACC building for the city’s purposes.
RACP is a state program that supports economic development. Capello said the administration is hoping for that $3.87 million to come from the county’s purchase of the city’s portion of the municipal building.
“The next step is to get the (municipal) building appraised, then negotiate with the county, and gain approval from the county commissioners,” Capello said. “The city needs an appraisal to move forward with negotiations with the county.”
The mission is a two-phase project, with the second phase being a 300-vehicle parking garage with a price tag of $8 million planned to be built at Seventh and Willow streets. Lebanon is the only town in the state with a population of more than 10,000 that does not have a municipal parking garage, Capello said.
“This is all one project, but it will need to be done in two phases due to finances,” Capello said.
None of this is a “done deal” yet, Capello cautioned, adding that the plan is contingent upon getting an agreeable price from the county.
“We still have to work out the details,” Capello said, adding that the success of the project hinges on the county commissioners giving approval for the county to purchase the city’s portion of the municipal building.
The city now has Lebanon Transit as its partner in an effort to attract more grant money, specifically federal funds for the $8 million for the parking garage. The city had hired a business consultant, who found the city lacked retail services and pedestrian traffic, Capello said.
Instituting a “Grow Lebanon 2020” campaign, city officials are hoping that Lebanon can become “a destination, a community, and a place to live and work,” Capello said. “One action item to make this happen is to relocate city offices to the downtown area.”
Expanding the business district will be beneficial to the “urban core center,” Capello said, and added that benefits to the business sector can encourage more private sector investment and growth.
If the HACC purchase is finalized, a 3,500 square foot addition will be built onto the rear of the building to create a 10-car parking area for the police department as well as an impound area. The police and fire departments will be moved to the first floor of HACC, giving them 7,296 sq. ft. of room. The size of the police department would be twice the size that it is now, Capello said.
The college will maintain 2,180 sq.ft. on the second floor of the building, and all of the third floor, or 19,550 sq. ft. of space. Chairman Carey thanked the mayor for her vision and her diligence in bringing the project to this point.
“Revitalization and activity is beneficial to the city and this will perhaps bring an end to concerns about parking,” Parker said, via phone. “It’s a comprehensive plan and I’m impressed with all the thought that’s gone into it.”
Beers + Hoffman architect Joseph Connor also praised what he called the mayor’s “vision and persistence.” The mayor’s team had applied for funding three times before receiving the funding it needed.
“We’ve been working with the mayor and her team on this historic project for years,” Connor said. “We feel this is the perfect time with HACC’s interest in selling and the HACC building is perfectly situated in the center of Lebanon.”
Council also approved a resolution authorizing the filing of a grant application to the Marcellus Shale grant fund for a feasibility study on recreational needs to determine the best use for the site upon demolition of the Lauther Memorial Water Complex at Coleman Memorial Park.
At its December meeting, Council had authorized the demolition of the pool due to its need for repair and lack of attendance.
The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources recommended that the city apply for the Marcellus Shale grant.
Before the meeting began, Carey told the 25 visitors that, since December, council meetings are now being live-streamed on YouTube to alert them that they could be televised. Only the council members and others in the front of the council chambers would be televised, unless someone from the audience voiced a question.