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Columbia Mall sold for $7 million

BUCKHORN — Empire Columbia LP has sold the Columbia mall for $7 million to Bloomsburg real estate developer Cristian Foust, of Foust Holdings LLC.

The July 2 sale consisted of four parcels: 39.94, 48.69 (the mall), 1.26 and 2.32 acres. With the purchase, Foust now owns approximately 170 acres near the Buckhorn exit of Interstate 80.

When reached for comment Thursday evening, Foust said he could not say much about the long-term future of the 31-year-old shopping center, recently renamed Columbia Colonnade, but immediate plans may include renovating the exterior entrances and facade, repairing the parking lot, which he said is in bad shape, and constructing strip centers within the property.

“What I am hoping to do is take the mall from where it’s at right now, and take it to its highest and best use for the local community and the region,” he said. “I am thinking about repurposing it.”

Foust is also working on a proposed 84-room Hilton hotel on 57-acres next to the mall. Architects are more than 50% done with plans and engineers have started communicating with PennDOT, he said, with a goal of submitting paperwork to various agencies in August.

“For 23 years, I have built homes, townhouses and a hotel in Lewisburg by Bucknell University, but I had been wondering if I was supposed to do bigger things in life,” he said. “My wife, one day, said something about the mall and my brain clicked.”

Foust, who lives in a development he built within eyeshot of the mall, thanked God for the opportunity to purchase the shopping complex.

He added, “I just want everyone to benefit from the mall and the other land I own in Buckhorn.”

According to court records, the mall also switched hands in 1995 for $27.6 million; in 2005 for $14 million from Bay View Columbia Mall to Cedar Bloomsburg LLC; and in 2013 for $2.78 million from Cedar Bloomsburg to Empire.

Other changes to the area might be on the horizon. ALDI Inc. is in the design phase for a new store at 181 Columbia Mall Drive, the location of the former Charlie Brown’s Steakhouse.

The supermarket chain recently applied for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit and was granted in March zoning variances by the Hemlock Township Zoning Hearing Board.

Geisinger Authority revealed in a public notice that it intends to invest $90 million on property in Hemlock Township “bounded by Interstate 80, Route 42, Schoolhouse Road and Creek Road.”

A public meeting of the Columbia County Board of Commissioners is scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday to address the proposed issuance of bonds and the financing of the project and three others.

The additional projects in Columbia County are:

• Geisinger-Bloomsburg Hospital campus, $6 million.

• 510 Montour Boulevard, Bloomsburg, $5 million.

• 240 Mall Boulevard, Bloomsburg, $5 million.

• 602 Honeysuckle Lane, Bloomsburg, $3 million.

The bonds are part of a larger $1 billion borrowing plan to refund a taxable loan, pay costs of issuing credit enhancement, and to acquire, construct, renovate and install capital improvements at various campuses in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The plan includes $50 million for Geisinger-Shamokin Area Community Hospital in Coal Township and $10 million at 208-212 Industrial Park Road in Elysburg.


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Bucknell grad to use scholarship to teach English, study coal towns in Argentina

LEWISBURG — To say 2019 Bucknell Univeristy graduate Tyler Candelora has a personal connection to coal would be an understatement. A native of Coal Township, his grandfather, Peter Murphy, was an Irish coal miner who died of black lung, and Candelora himself has worked in the industry for his father, David, who owned a coal delivery truck.

His connection and curiosity about the industry led Candelora to do coal-related research during his Bucknell academic career — first studying monuments and memorials in central Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal region, then the region’s historical coal mining accidents, and now coal towns outside the U.S. He will continue that research in Argentina next March, when he will begin work as an English teaching assistant as the recipient of a Fulbright U.S. Student Program grant.

Administered by the U.S. Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, these awards send U.S. citizens abroad for an academic year to research, teach or study.

“Because the teaching load is roughly 25 hours per week, they (Fulbright program administrators) propose that you do something else — and that can be working with a non-profit, taking classes, or a small research project,” said Candalora, who majored in comparative humanities and Spanish. “So I proposed that I would take classes to prepare for graduate school, and that I would also be interested in doing some research on coal mining areas in Argentina. There are just a few, but I found some cities that I thought may be interesting.”

Finding South American coal

When Candelora studied in Chile in spring 2018, he conducted research on the heritage and tourist sites in the coal mining town, Lota. He looks forward to returning to South America, this time visiting Argentina to extend his research.

“Ideally I’d be interested in studying monuments and memorials in a coal city, but really, I think it would be a long shot to find that,” he said. “Either way, I would still research coal mining areas because one of the sub-genres I’m interested in is labor history and underrepresented people — coal miners being one of those — and how they fit into the larger histories of these countries.”

As part of his Fulbright teaching grant, Candelora also hopes to create a conversational English coffee hour at the school where he’s assigned.

Faculty Fulbright awards

In addition to Candelora, Bucknell psychology professor Bill Flack and sociology and anthropology professor Clare Sammells have also recently received Fulbright awards.

Flack was awarded a grant from the Fulbright Scholar Program to research sexual assault among university students in Ireland and teach about sexual violence and psychological trauma at the National University of Ireland at Galway during the 2019-20 academic year.

Sammells received a Fulbright Flex Award, which will support three summers of research in Bolivia for her project, “Gastro-politics and Emerging Gastronomic Nationalism in La Paz, Bolivia.”

Adriana DiSilvestro, a 2018 graduate and environmental studies major, was also named a Fulbright alternate for her proposal to conduct research on ecotourism in Tanzania.


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Grant funds new protective gear for Kulpmont firefighters

KULPMONT — The Kulpmont Fire Department was recently recipient of new protective equipment received through a state grant (along with firefighter relief funding) of approximately $40,000.

“It’s recommended that PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) be replaced every 7 to 10 years or sooner, depending on wear and damage,” noted Matt Siko, who was very pleased and thankful regarding the equipment upgrade. “The last major purchase for the Kulpmont Fire Department was in 2004.”

“At that time, the purchase was paid for by a federal grant,” explained Siko. “Unfortunately, we were denied twice for federal funding to purchase PPE, thus this purchase was paid for through state grants and with firefighter relief funding.”

The equipment was purchased by the department from 911 Rapid Response, of Annville, whom Siko described as “a pleasure to deal with throughout the entire process.”

On top of the structural PPE, several sets of non-structural PPE were purchased through a package option. According to Siko, this was done to help offset the wear and potential damage caused to structural PPE at non-structural incidents such as vehicle collisions and other rescue assignments.

“The cost to replace non-structural PPE is approximately one-third of that to replace structural PPE,” Siko added.

As part of the gear package, new fire protection hoods were purchased for each firefighter, designed to prevent and lower the risk of cancer-causing contaminants.

Siko noted a major attribute of the new gear is it’s lighter than the prior equipment.

“It certainly further aids us in doing our job as it cuts down exertion due to the weight of gear,” Siko added.

According to Siko, the next major equipment purchase will be focused on replacing aging self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and upgrading firefighting accessories like boots and gloves.


Larry Deklinski / LARRY DEKLINSKI/STAFF PHOTO  

Members of the Shamokin volleyball team celebrate an ace against Sugar Valley Tuesday at Shamokin. Additional photo on B2.


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Future remains unknown for Susquehanna Valley Mall

SELINSGROVE — The Susquehanna Valley Mall continues to be listed on a sheriff’s sale scheduled for August.

The U.S. Bank National Association had filed a writ of execution in Snyder County Court of Common Pleas requesting the sheriff’s office sell the mall operated by Susquehanna Valley Mall Associates to recover $33,393,897.04.

The amount owed does not include court costs and 11.158% interest that has continued to accumulate since Feb. 7.

The sale will take place 1 p.m. Aug. 9 in the courthouse in Middleburg, unless a deal is struck with the mortgage lender or the mall files for bankruptcy.

A receptionist for the sheriff’s office confirmed Thursday that the mall is still scheduled for sale, which will take place in a courtroom to accommodate an anticipated large crowd.

The filing of a bankruptcy, the sheriff’s office website says, will automatically stay a sale, which would continue until the plaintiff obtains an order of court discharging a property from the custody of the bankruptcy court or until the bankruptcy court issues an order releasing a property from a sale.

The Susquehanna Valley Mall opened Sept. 26, 1978, with a ribbon cutting that was attended by hundreds of eager shoppers, elected officials, Miss Pennsylvania Charmaine Kowalski, Ron Paleo and “Zippy the Chimp.”


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Housing tax credit awarded to North'd Co.

HARRISBURG — The Housing Development Corporation (HDC) of Northumberland County has been awarded a Low-Income Housing Tax Credit allocation of more than $1 million: $500,000 through the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Fund (PHARE) and $500,000 through the PennHOMES program by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA), according to Sen. John R. Gordner (R-27) and Rep. Kurt A. Masser (R-107).

The credits and other allocations will be utilized for the construction of a 36-unit senior apartment building, called Mountainside Estates, in Coal Township, Northumberland County. The building site is currently a blighted, vacant property adjacent to the Mountain View Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Mountainside Estates will consist of one and two-bedroom apartments, with some of them being handicap accessible. The project also includes an outdoor community space, which will allow the facility to host community events.

“I want to thank PHFA and its executive director, Brian Hudson, for awarding these funds,” said Gordner. “This project will assist many low-income seniors to find quality, affordable housing that will also provide a benefit to the citizens of Coal Township.”

“The clearing of blighted property and providing worthy housing for low-income residents are two very difficult issues to address,” said Masser. “Through this project, we can accomplish both. It has been a lengthy process to get to this point and I would like to applaud the persistence of Ed Christiano and Pat Mack of HDC for making it happen.”

The Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program is a federal program originally created by the 1986 Tax Reform Act. The PHARE Fund was established by the Commonwealth in 2010 and funding for this project will come from a portion of realty transfer taxes that are pledged to the fund.

PennHOMES is a 0% interest, 30-year term loan program. The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency is responsible for the administration of these programs in the Commonwealth. The purpose of the programs is to assist in the creation and preservation of affordable housing for low-income households.


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Changes approved for Kulpmont-Marion Heights Joint Municipal Authority

KULPMONT — On Tuesday evening, the Kulpmont-Marion Heights Joint Municipal Authority Board discussed and approved two motions, one of which will change the venue of the organization’s monthly meeting, and the other, the face of its leadership. The changes come following months of contentious debate and disagreement over authority budgetary spending and management of the facility’s day-to-day operations.

Voting to approve the new authority meeting venue and leadership were board members Robert Fanella, Walter Lutz, Tony Greco and Joseph Miriello Jr., with Bruno Varano, Stephanie Niglio and Bernie Novakoski being opposed.

Change of venue

A motion to move the monthly board meetings from its present location at the Jan Sobieski Club, 35 S. 10th St., back to Kulpmont Borough Hall at 9 N. Eighth St. was approved.

“Several of us objected strenuously to the meetings previously being moved to the Jan Sobieski Club. In my opinion, that location is the most unprofessional venue possible for a public meeting,” Lutz stated.

New leadership

Moving forward, Fanella will now serve as president of the board, with Lutz as vice-president and Niglio secretary/treasurer.

With regard to the board reorganization and its new leadership, Lutz said it basically had to do with the goal of improving day-to-day operations at the facility.

“As far as the new leadership is concerned, our focus was to reorganize based upon finances and management of day-to-day operations,” Lutz said.

Fanella also offered his comments on the changes.

“The borough building location is much better than a bar room for our meetings. It offers better seating for the public, among many other things. Several of us felt that the authority wasn’t being run as effectively as it could be. I accept the challenge ahead and am committed to doing the best I can with it,” he stated.

Fanella indicated that he hopes to lead an effort to change at least one of the current board policies, which he views as extremely unfair.

“Right now if a house sits empty for a year, the property owner is charged a substantial sewer line hookup fee of $1,200 which is something I would definitely look into changing,” he remarked.


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Blight battle continues in Coal Township

COAL TOWNSHIP — “We’ve got to do something!”

Those were the words of lifelong area resident Skip Rabuck, who gave an impassioned plea for residents and officials at Thursday’s Coal Township Commissioners meeting.

Rabuck noted that area blight is a depressing thing to think about and how time has only led to further decay.

“I’ve lived here all my life and it’s never been worse,” noted Rabuck.”People who are negligent in keeping their properties clean or paying taxes are kicked out, but wind up right back where they were just months later.”

Rabuck noted there are certainly still some good folks in the area and he lauded the commissioners and local law enforcement on their continued efforts, but noted everyone, the community included, could work harder and together to try to correct some of the issues that have taken a toll over the years on Coal Township.

Township solicitor Vince Rovito broke down the issue in detail to both Rabuck and those in attendance.

“What’s happening, unfortunately, is that people are essentially having other people come in and bid for properties. Generally, it’s a family member. They get the bid for the property and in the next two or three months you see a transfer in the newspaper of a property from one person back to the person who initially lost the property due to taxes,” Rovito explained.

Rovito noted that the Northumberland County Commissioners asked Coal Township Commissioners to do whatever they could to try to limit this issue from happening.

“To the county commissioners’ credit, we now pre-register people bidding for properties, and if you are not on that list on the day of the sale, you do not get in — it’s that simple,” Rovito noted.

“When the bosses speak, you look for ways to assist them,” Rovito continued. “The other issue is that, at some point, there should be something said to state legislature about putting some teeth in the law — because the law says ‘Thou shalt not bid’, but doesn’t say what the penalty is if you do.”

Commissioners took a moment to show appreciation to former Coal Township Police Chief William Carpenter, who was in attendance, who recently retired after 37 years on the force.

“We’d like to publicly recognize our former police chief for his time and service to this community,” said Commissioner George Zalar.

Commissioner Gene Welsh echoed Zalar’s sentiments.

“You were so great for this township,” he said. “We are very happy with our fine officers going forward, but you will be missed.”

Commissioners also took time to commend the efforts of the recently completed paving project that took place on Willow, Walnut and Lynn streets in the township as done by the street department.

“They did an excellent job,” said Zalar.

A pair of bids for the Arch Street Recreation Center project were awarded by the commissioners to Heim Construction Co., for $63,363 (floor bid) and LSI Specialties Inc., for $19,800 (masonry walls bid).

The commissioners approved a motion to set the salary of Acting Chief of Police Ed Purcell at $75,000 per year and the permanent appointment of Patrolman Cody Rebuck effective on his one year anniversary, which was April 23.

An appeal from William Chesney, of Lynn Street, was heard prior to the meeting and his request for a handicapped parking spot in front of his residence was unanimously approved by commissioners.

Chairman Craig Fetterman and Commissioner Bernie Rumberger were absent.


WALT DISNEY STUDIOS MOTION PICTURES  

Young Simba the lion cub (voiced by JD McCrary, left) meets Pumbaa the friendly warthog (Seth Rogen) and his sidekick, Timon the meerkat, in “The Lion King.”


Andrew Welsh Huggins/ap photo  

The main entrance to Mount Carmel West Hospital is shown in Columbus, Ohio.