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Future of vacant Williamsport City Hall up for discussion

Williamsport's former city hall building sits vacant at 245 W. Fourth St.
Street View July 2023
Williamsport's former city hall building sits vacant at 245 W. Fourth St.

A building that served for decades as Williamsport’s City Hall could become privately owned, but some residents hope it remains a public, municipal meeting place.

Built in the late 1800s as a post office, 245 W. Fourth St. was eventually purchased by Williamsport in 1977 for $100,000 with municipal offices moving in two years later. In 2021, the city condemned the building, citing water damage and mold issues, and offices moved out. Some public meetings now take place at the Trade and Transit Centre downtown.

This January, Williamsport City Council drew up a contract with Fish Commercial Group to find a buyer for the former city hall, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. The multiple listing service shows an asking price of $499,000 and offers will be considered by city officials.

“It’s not the mayor’s building, it’s not city council’s building. It’s the public’s building,” said Gloria Miele, an owner of the Peter Hedric House Restaurant and Inn on the city’s historic Millionaires’ Row, just blocks away. She said the city could save money by fixing existing issues instead of constructing a new headquarters.

Miele and other local preservationists formed an ad hoc group to ask the city to reconsider the sale. Some spoke out at the Aug. 3 council meeting, including Bruce Huffman.

“There is no higher use or better use of Williamsport’s national register-listed city hall… than for it to remain what it was conceived of, a government building for the public and for the people,” Huffman said at the meeting.

This week, law firm Elion, Grieco and Shipman mailed a letter to Mayor Derek Slaughter and council members asking for more public input on the matter and called attention to the state’s Donated and Dedicated Property Act. Miele said common law should require approval from county orphans’ court for the city to sell the once-government building to a private entity. She also noted her daughter Elizabeth sits on council.

Jessup-based JBAS Realty is one of at least three groups to bid on the property. Owner John Basalyga said in an email, if chosen as buyer, he’d likely develop a mixed-use residential and commercial project, but it would be important to keep “the existing charm and characteristics of the building.”

Council President Adam Yoder said a public review and discussion of all bids will take place on Aug. 29, 7 p.m. at Trade and Transit Centre II, 144 W. Third St., third floor. The forum will help council and Slaughter’s administration decide what they’ll do about former city hall, likely voting in September, Yoder said.

A separate building in Williamsport, Old City Hall at 454 Pine St., is now home to the City Hall Grand Hotel, renovated in 2016, per the company’s website. Miele said the same developer, Tim Butters, also placed a bid on the former city hall on West Fourth Street.

Corrected: September 22, 2023 at 1:18 PM EDT
A previous version of this story included an incorrect spelling of Huffman's name.
Tom Riese is a multimedia reporter and the local host for NPR's Morning Edition. He comes to NEPA by way of Philadelphia. He is a York County native who studied journalism at Temple University.