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Chambersburg is at the crossroads

March 21, 1998|By DON AINES

Chambersburg is at the crossroads

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - To preserve or develop: That is the question yet to be resolved in a proposed land swap economic development proponents say is crucial to revitalizing Chambersburg's downtown.

A plan to trade borough-owned properties along the Falling Spring for properties owned by the Chambersburg Area Development Corp. (CADC) is awaiting a vote by the borough council.

Borough Manager Eric Oyer said Thursday at a town meeting of Downtown Chambersburg Inc. that the Planning and Zoning Commission won't make a recommendation to the council until Wednesday, April 8.

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In recent weeks, local historians have questioned whether the land should become office and retail space, or remain a park.

The CADC owns the site of the recently demolished Madden Hotel on North Main Street. The swap would include that and other downtown land for borough property along the creek, Oyer said at a recent council meeting.

Leasing the streamside properties for office and retail development would bring people back to the downtown, according to a master plan developed for Downtown Chambersburg Inc., an affiliate of the Greater Chambersburg Chamber of Commerce.

Downtown Chambersburg Executive Director Paul Cullinane said Thursday investment in the downtown is already substantial. CADC invested $750,000 in buying properties and demolishing rundown buildings.

The architectural firm of Noelker & Hull spent $850,000 to renovate a warehouse into office space near the stream, Cullinane said. He said the borough has spent $50,000 on a walkway off North Main Street and other improvements in the northwest quadrant off Memorial Square.

"We see downtown Chambersburg as a corporate and commercial center," Cullinane said.

Dr. Harry Haddon, a retired Chambersburg physician, sees the confluence of the Falling Spring and Conococheague differently. He and local historians see it as the community's birthplace.

Thursday Haddon said the land had been dedicated as a park by the borough in 1981 as the place where Benjamin Chambers built his fort and mill during the 1730s.

"There has never been any significant archeological work," Haddon said of the site.

"The historic attractions of this area are still potentially a great tourist attraction," according to Haddon.

He noted Benjamin Chambers knew Pennsylvania founder William Penn and his son James Chambers fought with George Washington in the Revolutionary War.

Haddon believes the land that could be shops and offices ought to remain a park honoring veterans from the French and Indian War onward.

Cullinane said Thursday redevelopment of the downtown will take up to $25 million over a period of years. Most of that money will come from the private sector, but some funds will have to come from state and local government to promote investment.

Promoting the Old Jail and Capitol Theatre, expansion of the King Street United Brethren Church and renovation of the Southgate Mall are also part of the downtown master plan, according to Cullinane.

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