Williamsport Sun Gazette - May 9, 2000 -- Park Home May Be in New Hands Soon
by: R.A. Walker
If all goes well, the historic Park Home could be in new hands by mid-summer. The Williamsport Planning Commission recommended a change from one non-conforming use to another so the latest potential buyer can use the former grand hotel for business offices.
The commissions action is advisory to the city's Zoning Hearing Board.
Several years ago, the zoning hearing board approved plans proposed by Adrian Brodish who planned to restore the structure as a hotel. Brodish, however, was unable to finalize all the financing and his agreement of the sale with the Park Home Board lapsed.
The latest agreement of sale involves former U.S. Congressman Allen E. Ertel and his business partner William Brown.
Brown and architect Anthony Visco attended Monday's planning commission meeting, during which their request was recommended to the hearing board by a 4-1 vote. City Council and planning commission member Thomas E. Bailey cast the lone "no" vote, claiming his vote stemmed from having no advance information about the request.
Bailey expressed irritation because he did not receive a supplemental agenda with details of the plans, and he said it seemed someone was trying to push the issue through.
However, Brown and Visco later told the Sun Gazette they won't be able to finalize plans until the late June because the zoning hearing board's May agenda is already full and they will have to wait until the June meeting. Brown said the sale could be finalized about July if the hearing board approves their request.
Visco said the total cost for the project will be around $2 million, including the purchase price and the cost of renovations to the 19th Century structure.
Brown declined to discuss the potential purchase price.
The Park Home began as a railroad hotel but was used as a home for women from about 1940 until a few years ago, when the last of the elderly occupants moved to nursing facilities. It has been vacant about three years.
According to Brown, he and Ertel plan to locate their RegScan computer operation in the structure. The company employs about 60 people.
They also will renovate and rent three existing apartments in the structure.
Visco said renovations would include parking improvements and work on former railroad depot location located on the approximately 11 acres of land that comes with the Park Home. The renovations to the former hotel will be both interior and exterior.
the work could be done by the end of the year.
Williamsport Sun Gazette - May 2000 -- Park Home Open House Set : Public Welcome as Developers Seek Support
By: R.A. Walker
The former Park Home could be in the hands of new owners by late June and the restoration work under way.
Extensive exterior and interior work is needed to prepare the Victorian era structure for use by software business in which former U.S. Rep. Allen E. Ertel is a partner.
Meanwhile, Ertel and business partner William Brown are inviting the public to get a first-hand look at one of Williamsport's historic landmarks - originally a grand hotel to which wealthy guests traveled in private railroad cars from Philadelphia and other eastern cities.
According to the former congressman, the public is welcome during an open house at the structure from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, June 3.
"There's alot of people who have an interest in that building and haven't really been in it," Ertel said Thursday morning.
The developers need a special exception because they are changing a previously approved non-conforming use to another, but they already have the recommendation of the Williamsport Planning Commission.
Ertel said he doesn't anticipate a problem when the issue goes before the city's Zoning Hearing Board on June 15.
J. Bernard Schelb, city zoning officer, termed the enterprise "an ambitious project," and plans prepared by architect Anthony Visco show how the prospective owners plan to renovate the interior for use by Ertel and Brown's software duplication firm.
The tentative plans will be on display June 3, but those already on file in City Hall show 2,000 square feet for product assembly, three apartments (which apparently will be rented) and office space. In addition, the developers have expressed interest in having a "victorian display" in the buildings first floor "grand lobby" area.
After serving as a hotel, the structure at West Fourth and Campbell streets was used as a home for elderly women for more than 50 years. For the past few years, it has been vacant.
At one point, the city and courts turned back an attempt to have the building demolished and replaced with a modern personal care facility for the elderly.
According to Ertel and Brown, the open house will allow the public to see "the critical condition (of the building) and the need for restoration (work)."
Visco has called the structure "a major part of the history of Williamsport" and terms its restoration as "critical to the viability of historic Millionaires Row."
The developers note in a press release that "public support is crucial to make sure the building is restored properly."
Williamsport Sun Gazette - June 1, 2000 -- Prospective Park Home Buyers Appoint Advisory Board : Committee to Help Guide Restoration
By: R.A. Walker
Williamsport's historic Park Home began life as a grand railroad hotel in the 19th Century and may be revived in the 21st Century as the home of an expanding business.
According to the prospective owners, the property's new name is "tentatively ... Park Place," and it is conversion to offices and related business space will coincide with careful interior and exterior restoration and rehabilitation with the guidance of an advisory committee.
"They're going to be a fairly instrumental part of this," stressed former Congressman Allen E. Ertel of the advisory committee.
Ertel and partner William Brown, partners in real estate and businesses, including a computer software duplication firm, have an agreement of sale to buy the Park Home and 11 accompanying acres.
Wednesday, the two businessmen announced their tentative name for the property and their volunteer committee, which Ertel said likely would have more members as work progresses.
For now the committee members are: the Rev. Dr. John Piper, dean of Lycoming College; Dr. Randall F. Hipple, a long-time City Council member; Robert Kane Jr., vice president of the Lycoming County Historical Society and member of the city's Historical Architectural Review Board; Edward Lyon Jr., executive director of the non-profit Lycoming Neighborhood Development Corp.; Nan Young, a HARB member; and Tabby Nassberg, wife of Lycoming County Commissioner Dick Nassberg.
The structure began as the Herdic House Hotel. It later became known as the Park Hotel, and from about 1940 through the mid - 1990's was a home for elderly women.
Ertel said the public input on the project is welcome and an open house is planned from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
"The whole purpose is to get the community involved," he said.
According to Brown, "local contractors will be hired" for the project, which will "allow the expansion of a current enterprise and eventually create 73 new jobs."
Williamsport Sun Gazette - June 4, 2000 -- Door's Wide Open : Prospective Owners of Park Home See Many Possibilities
By: Peter Sinnott
The future of Williamsport's historic district may be getting brighter, as plans for the renovation and revitalization of the Park Home are on the verge of becoming a reality.
On Saturday, prospective owners William Brown and former Congressman Allen E. Ertel held an open house at the Park Home to stimulate community interest in the revitalization process.
And interest there apparently is as an estimated 350 people turned out.
Although the sale is still in the air, Brown is confident it will go through.
"All we need is to pass zoning, and then we'll be able to close the deal. We have a target date of July 15 for construction," an optimistic Brown said.
Ertel and Brown didn't say how much money they've offered for the property, but the estimate renovations will cost upward of $2.6 million.
As envisioned, the restored building would be used as the headquarters for two businesses Ertel and Brown are directly involved in, Firetree Ltd. and RegScan, a computer software and electronic publishing firm.
They estimate the expansion of the businesses will eventually create 73 new jobs.
Five suites are going to be leased, and an exercise facility will be placed on the ground floor for tenant use.
Ertel said choosing the site for the business makes sense for multiple reasons. "First of all, we saw a dilapidated historical structure that should be saved. We also needed space for our business, and this place is close by, so it naturally made a lot of sense. We really want the community involved," said Ertel. RegScan, in fact, is just a few blocks east on West Fourth Street.
The partners firmly believe in maintaining the historical integrity of the building, and so they welcome involvement from an advisory committee.
Robert Kane is a member of that committee and a member of the Lycoming County Historical Society.
"The historical society is thrilled to see this happen," Kane said Saturday as he stood in the former hotel's lobby. "This building is the anchor of the historical district, and Bill and Allen have sincere interest in keeping that intact for the community."
According to Kane, the committee will function as advisers during the restoration process, and help with the task of raising money for the work.
Ertel said the partners are looking for any financial support they can get including from the city.
"We're hoping to get help from anywhere we can, and we're pouring a great deal of money into this," Ertel said.
All the suites and passageways are to be restored, and the lobby area will serve as a type of historical museum.
Architect Anthony Visco has been studying the building in preparation for designing the restorations. "Most of the exterior is minor structural work, but the real emphasis will be on the plumbing," said Visco.
The architect said the original bathrooms would have to be eliminated since all the plumbing needs replaced and the exterior porches are an area of concern because they are expensive to duplicate. The home will need new heating and air conditioning systems, as well.
While admitting its a big job, Visco said it isn't much different than other restorations he has worked on. "There will be tons of work hours, but I love the challenge," said Visco. He estimated the work could be done by year's end.
The open house had a good turnout, and those who ventured through the building seem to like the idea of restoring it. "I think it is wonderful," said Donna McCloskey, "I'm an admirer of Victorian architecture and it is great to see someone bring this back. Too many times people just tear it down. This is great for Williamsport."
Kane believes the hotel's purchase is a major turning point in the revival of the historic district. He hopes more people in the area will follow suit and restore other buildings.
Said Kane, "They've encouraged help from the historical society, and now we hope that the community gets involved, as well. This is one of the last railroad hotels left in the country."
In 1864, Peter Herdic had architect Eber Culver design and build a "first class hotel " on the site of what later became 800 West Fourth Street. The building cost Herdic $225,000 to build - a ton of money at the time - but the magnate went bankrupt, the "Herdic Hotel" was auctioned off for just $1,200.
subsequently became the Park Home in 1908, but closed in 1939. In 1940,
it reopened as a retirement home for some 50 years before closing again.
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