Debate About City Hall Renovation, Relocation Involves PenFed Building
SCRANTON — City council and residents on Monday again debated the merits and costs of renovating City Hall versus relocating offices.
Councilman Bill Gaughan read a March 23 memo from city Business Administrator David Bulzoni to council, in which Bulzoni explained some of the background considerations at hand. Bulzoni said his thinking about having government offices move out of City Hall was partly influenced by the newer PenFed Credit Union building at 315-331 Franklin Ave. recently going up for sale for $5 million.
PenFed corporate functions moved to Washington, D.C., and the credit union branch in Scranton is mostly vacant and will eventually close, Bulzoni said in the memo also sent to Mayor Bill Courtright, city solicitor Jessica Eskra and Pennsylvania Economy League Executive Director Gerald Cross, who is the city’s Act 47 recovery coordinator.
Regarding a total renovation, Bulzoni’s memo said:
• Bidding requirements inherently introduce variables such that “the city will likely realize costs between $10 million and $12 million.”
• While the city seeks a $5.3 million state grant to fund half of the renovation cost, the city may never get all or any of that funding.
• Logistical issues during construction would “abound.” During the last overhaul in 1979, the entire City Hall operation was moved to the Connell Building, which now is filled with residences.
• Another option would be to renovate City Hall floor by floor. The city Office of Economic and Community Development perhaps
could go to the Marketplace at Steamtown into the recently vacated Single Tax Office, which moved into the county’s new Wyoming Avenue headquarters. The city also might want to consider relocating the Civil War museum from the basement of City Hall.
Regarding relocation optins, Bulzoni’s memo said:
• The PenFed building essentially would be turnkey for city offices and cost half as much as a total renovation of City Hall. Parking at PenFed is substantial and trash-fee payments could be made at drive-up teller windows. The PenFed building is secure and would have substantially lower operating costs than even a renovated City Hall. The purchase would be funded through borrowing, the same as with funding the balance of a total renovation of City Hall not covered by a state grant.
• Private ownership of City Hall might have availability of historic building tax credits and opportunity zone incentives not available to the city. Those and the prospect of the city reassigning a state grant, if received, to a private entity, “might make the project cost-effective” for an outside entity.
• Conversion of City Hall into residences is unlikely because of its layout, and “conversion to a boutique hotel and gathering place would require the same type of analysis.”
• Bulzoni has identified an unspecified, prospective public/private use, which he described as a quasi-museum with public and private gathering spaces. This is a complex concept with many moving parts that “might be achievable if an assurance for future funding is guaranteed.”
Residents again weighed in on the issue.
“This building is Scranton. It’s the past and it should be the future,” Ron Ellman said of City Hall.
“I can’t believe you’re even considering the idea of selling this building,” Les Spindler added. “Time to stop this, right now. The building can’t be sold. Restore it.”
Before the meeting, council in a caucus heard from Highland Associates principal Michael Wolf and project manager Drew Marcinkevich on the firm’s recent condition assessment of City Hall that delineated the many repairs needed and estimated the project could cost $10.7 million.
Council also unanimously adopted a resolution for the city to seek the $5.3 million state grant.
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