MUNCY - Thirty five business representatives came together last Thursday night at the Muncy Professional Business Association's meeting to hear more about the Muncy Resiliency Project. Guest speakers Bill Ramsey, of the Muncy Borough; Ed Feigles of Muncy Borough Council; and Josh Schnitzlein, of the Lycoming County Planning Department discussed and answered many questions on what the project will entail.
This is a project that is not going away. Muncy met all of the criteria for the federal grant funding and the $250,000 is already there to get it started. According to Ramsey this kicked off the project last March for planning purposes.
The Muncy Resiliency Project is set aside to make Muncy a model town with a designated resiliency center to show other communities how it can rebuild its aging infrastructure in a historical district that is repeatedly unsettled by flooding. To start, it involves the busy corner of Main and Water Streets where an old opera house and a theatre remain.
BARB BARRETT/The Luminary
Ed Feigles from the Muncy Borough Council and field work coordinator for Lycoming County is with Joshua Schnitzlein from the county planning office as both spoke at the Muncy Professional Business Association Thursday night regarding the renovation of the old Opera House on the corner of Main and Water Streets.
Ramsey suggested the planning grant be used to start a steering committee to work with a professional consultant to develop a strategic plan. "Decide what projects come first," he said. The Muncy Borough passed a resolution to endorse the project. "We will also partner with the water authority," Ramsey added. The next approach will be the Sewer Authority also impacted by the project funding. "We need to upgrade our lines and be better prepared for when crisis occurs. We need to know what can be done with the land."
The more partners involved and the more detailed the plan is, the better the funding process is when applying for the grants. Feigles who works for the County said this goes up to the federal level. "Muncy is designated as a Resilient Community."
There will be buyouts for some of the properties affected by frequent flood waters and this land will need to be repurposed. "There will be no taxes recouped, as it becomes public property," Ramsey explained.
The historic opera house will be acquired from the Bruch Foundation according to discussions, as a donation for a dollar to the borough of Muncy. The Borough will then have three years to develop and utilize the building adding economic growth to the business district.
Through contacts with Providence Engineering in Muncy, senior semester students from the College of Architecture Landscape and Engineering at Penn State University have already been working on designing the building as a "Center of Excellence". This will be for the state of Pennsylvania where conferences, seminars and public meetings can be held. Walkable pathways could be added, rain gardens on Main Street, some hardy trees planted, a farmer's market and a tri-town art center were some of the possible projects the students came up with after a tour of the building and assessing the corner lot last week.
The Ritz Theater was also looked at and still remains for sale. About 40 to 50 students came up with 8 designs for the center which will be available soon for public viewing. The building is structurally sound with a full basement and 15 foot high ceilings. The third floor is all open and the beams and trusses are in good shape they reported. It was built in 1896.
Ramsey said, "We can save this building!"
Muncy will be "a laboratory setting" for other municipalities to follow. "They can come here and we can show them how to do this. The location is good. It is rural, but Muncy is easy to get to."
Establishing a non-profit such as the Muncy Resiliency Foundation would be the next step to re-purchase the property or properties. If no foundation is formed after three years, the building will be up for sale. Meanwhile, the borough will maintain the insurance and small repairs.
It will be a bridge ownership. Feigles said they are looking for sponsors to help with operating expenses.
"We want to get professionals flowing into the center and to Muncy," said Schnitzlein from the County. The state is committed and the project is here to stay. The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development is on board and provided the community grant block fund. Other grants can be leveraged against each other for more funding. "Four years ago we talked about this, and now discussion is on a national level," Feigles said. "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to remake our town. It's going to move slowly, but it's going to move. I have been here for 53 years, and I have never seen something like this for Muncy."
"We have the momentum now to move forward," Schnitzlein said.