Pottsville Officials Clap Back at Schuylkill Commissioners Over Prison Plans
Pottsville city officials sounded off in unity on Wednesday morning to Schuylkill County Commissioners to express their displeasure with the idea of a pre-release prison center at the site of the former GIANT grocery store.
Last week, we were first to report that Schuylkill County was exploring the idea of placing a long-desired pre-release prison facility at the former grocery store that closed in early July. Schuylkill County was having the 2.1-acre property assessed in the hopes of buying it from The GIANT Company.
Once our news circulated on social media – creating the biggest traffic day in Canary history – it was clear that majority opinion wholly disapproved of this plan.
Pottsville Officials Clap Back at Schuylkill County Plan to Place Pre-Release Prison Downtown
On Wednesday, city officials expressed their concerns with the county’s potential plan at the latest regular Schuylkill Commissioners meeting.
Mayor Jim Muldowney got the ball rolling Wednesday. He said it bluntly.
“The purchase of the GIANT will devastate our revitalization,” the mayor said during the teleconference virtual meeting.
Savas Logothetides, who among many roles serves as executive director of Pottsville Area Development Corp. (PADCO), went into more detail on why a pre-release prison is bad idea for the city’s downtown.
“A planned pre-release center, while needed in the county, is a counterproductive and short sighted use for one of the few large and visible properties in our downtown. Nearly 2,000 have signed an online petition in agreement,” he said. “This type of use is the exact opposite of what our strategic plan has spelled out. It would have a negative impact and act as a deterrent when attracting small businesses to our downtown, when attracting residential investors, and when improving downtown livability.”
Logothetides says there are already investors interested in the former GIANT supermarket property. And the last thing Pottsville needs is another tax-exempt property.
“The County already owns at least 10 parcels within the city of Pottsville that are tax exempt. As of 2018, for those 10 properties, the total tax loss to the City of Pottsville is $124,753 annually or, over the course of 10 years, in excess of $1.24 million dollars. The total assessed value of county property located in the city, as of 2018, was $6,407,000.”
“Pottsville Deserves Better”
He added that the GIANT property generates $32,608 annually in tax revenue for Pottsville, Schuylkill County, and Pottsville Area School District. When it operated as a business, GIANT generated more than $17,000 in additional tax revenue for Pottsville.
“I, along with a multitude of business owners, residents, City and County officials are vehemently against transitioning a privately owned, large tax paying entity to an institutionalized tax exempt entity. I strongly urge you to review the Strategic Plan for Pottsville that was completed in 2018,” he added. “I strongly urge you to reconsider this course of action. Other sites within the county make more sense and are potentially more cost effective. I also urge you to talk to your constituents, business owners, and other elected officials, especially the ones in the city of Pottsville who would be directly affected by a short sighted decision like this. Pottsville deserves better.”
More elected officials also expressed their concerns with Schuylkill County Commissioners Wednesday.
City Councilman Dave Clews said, “While a planned release center is needed, the GIANT market property is not the place for it.”
Clews, like others who phoned in to express their discontent, said putting a prison downtown would go counter to the city’s current revitalization efforts.
“The years of positive movement that the Pottsville Continued Progress Project has made along with the City of Pottsville and the hard work and support from many elected officials and local businesses have made will be severely hampered by that choice,” Clews said. “Please find a another location and solution.”
Bipartisan Opposition to Schuylkill County Pre-Release Prison Plan
Another City Councilman, Mark Atkinson, said that the County’s proposed plan actually helped create bipartisan unity in Pottsville … against the County. He called on his experience working for the Pennsylvania Dept. of Corrections in saying, “I spent over 18 years in management with the Pennsylvania Dept. of Corrections. And part of those responsibilities was to inspect pre-release facilities,” Atkinson said. “I’m very well aware of how those pre-release facilities are run and I’m well aware of the problems they can sometimes bring to inner city neighborhoods.”
Atkinson added, “We are on a rebound in a very positive way. This particular plan by the county to purchase the GIANT building has also united us in bipartisanship in that, overwhelmingly, we reject this idea. There are other properties within the City that are readily available right now in which the City would be very happy to work with the County to facilitate that move. To place a correctional facility in our business district is just a recipe to destroy our business climate.”
State Rep. Tobash: Don’t Put My Name on This Building
And State Rep. Mike Tobash, who represents Pottsville as part of the 125th District in Harrisburg, warned Schuylkill Commissioners that using public money for this purpose goes against lessons learned from other communities that have experienced successful revitalizations.
“It should not take government dollars and put social services in the best economic value areas. We need to band together and be wise about development,” Tobash said. “The decision on this project will definitely be a legacy. And if the project goes through, I’m not sure whose name we’d want to appear on the dedication. I certainly wouldn’t want it to be mine.”
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