CHAMBERSBURG – A newly sworn in Chambersburg Borough Council unanimously voted to extend the deadline to complete the purchase of the Southgate Shopping Center to March 1. The addendum provides extra time for council to perform due diligence regarding the transaction.
Council’s action extends the deadline into March, but the borough’s governing body can take action sooner. The extension lets them close the deal at any of the four scheduled council meetings before then. The original deadline was Jan. 11.
“I’m certainly glad this happened,” said Borough Council President Allen Coffman after the vote. “Had this not happened, decision time was a week from tonight, which was entirely too short.”
Coffman officially replaced Alice Elia as Chambersburg’s new Borough Council president earlier that evening.
Borough to public: ‘A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’
According to information provided by Borough Manager and Director of Utilities Jeffrey Stonehill, the purchase of the Southgate Shopping Center was originally authorized by the council on Oct. 11. The purchase was to be completed in two phases, with 90-day and 365-day due diligence periods, respectively.
As part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the U.S. Treasury provided the borough with $7,763,037 grant to help the community respond and record from the COVID-19 pandemic. Of that amount, the council allocated $4,151,857 to purchase the Southgate Shopping Center.
Borough-provided information describes the purchase as “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to redevelop this area with federal grant money rather than local tax revenue and/or bonds, or loans.”
It also explains that from its standpoint, it is in its best interest to buy the property; citing redevelopment of “a dilapidated, code-deficient property with a neighborhood of land uses that the community expressed interest in.” Those include residential, health care, and commercial uses supported with public recreation and open space amenities.”
Public support for extending the deadline
The Southgate purchase was the first item on the agenda that was open to public comment. Speakers concerns ranged from losing shopping space near downtown to questions as to whether or not this was the best use of the money.
Supporters of the decision to extend the deadline to March 1 included Stephen Christian, president of Chambersburg Chamber of Commerce, Michelle Jansen, who works at 37 South Main Street, and Sam Thrush, president of Downtown Chambersburg, Inc.
Christian said of the additional deliberation: “It is, in my opinion, a good and wise thing to do.”
Jansen implored the council to consider the “opportunity costs” when performing the due diligence to know that we are using the money as wisely as possible.
Thrush voiced support for extending the due diligence period to “make sure it’s the best decision.” He added that this will add to the development pressure he is already seeing downtown.
Public to council: ‘We’re trusting you to make the right decision’
The vote on Jan. 3 was specifically about whether or not to extend the due diligence period, but much of the public comment addressed the larger issue of the purchase itself.
A resident from East Washington Street described the plan to purchase Southgate “ludicrous” and voiced concern that without the Southgate Shopping Center there would be nothing to do downtown after 5 p.m.
Another resident, from East Queen Street, described Southgate as a “blighted property” and added that the purchase would be “a boon for Chambersburg both economically and aesthetically.”
Someone from Fayetteville expressed concern about the amount the borough was buying “blighted” property at “pristine” property rates. She asked the council to consider the infrastructure costs associated with the purchase before thanking the council for doing their due diligence.
The last speaker on the matter was a pastor of a church located in the Third Ward who thanked the council for the research they have done through diligence and public comments. She expressed concern over possible impacts to the community as a result of the development.
“I think that we have waited long enough to see a productive and vibrant area within the Third Ward, and we’re trusting you to make the right decision with the due diligence period.”