Posted by on June 20, 2021 11:13 pm

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Categories: Coal Region Newswire Coal Region Newswire 2 Coronavirus in Schuylkill County Local News

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Alvernia University will purchase the former GIANT grocery store in downtown Pottsville and transform it into its latest CollegeTowne campus.

President John Loyack informed The Canary on Sunday afternoon that he’s signed a Letter of Intent for the university to purchase the property that went on the market in July 2020.

GIANT closed its Pottsville located after more than 3 decades in business at that location on July 9.

We’re unaware of how much Alvernia will pay for the former grocery store property.

Alvernia to Purchase Former GIANT Grocery Store in Pottsville

It’s been about 2 weeks since we first reported that Alvernia was eyeing a property in downtown Pottsville to expand its operation in Schuylkill County and launch its second CollegeTowne concept campus.

“We look forward to being a downtown community partner,” Loyack said in an email exchange with us Sunday.

Alvernia will be leaving its current location at Cressona Mall, likely in a year, when it finishes construction on the Pottsville CollegeTowne.

Loyack previously told us that Alvernia will retrofit Pottsville CollegeTowne into the old grocery store property, adding that renovating the property is more financially attractive than demolishing the store than building anew.

When it’s finished, Pottsville CollegeTowne will be Alvernia’s new home locally. The school is based in Reading and that’s where it launched its first CollegeTowne earlier this year.

The former GIANT store allows the school to expand, offering new degree programs to local students. One of those expansion plans is a partnership with the McCloskey School of Nursing, where Loyack tells us Alvernia will begin offering some 4-year degrees in the field once CollegeTowne opens.

Another major part of CollegeTowne is its built-in business incubator. That will allow entrepreneurs to pair with some of the school’s business educators to help them get their business from ideas to plans and then launch.

Schuylkill County Government Trumped – Thankfully – in Pursuit of Property

Outside of Alvernia’s big plan to expand its school in Schuylkill County, the other big storyline is, of course, the property it chose to be its new home.

It seems like minutes after the GIANT announced it was closing, we learned that Schuylkill County government officials were secretly trying to purchase the property, even before it was on the market. Like always, it was impossible to get a straight answer out of any of them at the Courthouse on why they wanted the former grocery store.

They tried to tamp down any speculation that the County wanted the property to open a pre-release prison. That idea of a pre-release prison downtown drew the ire of many, especially from the public and from public officials. Then State Rep. Mike Tobash even told Commissioners that if they were to advance with their foolish plan to build a pre-release prison in downtown Pottsville, he wouldn’t want his name anywhere near it.

State Sen. Dave Argall even advanced legislation that would make it illegal – without consent – for a county like Schuylkill to purchase a property like the former GIANT because it was in a planned economic revitalization area.

After being humiliated publicly as they were, the Commissioners – mostly Boots Hetherington and George Halcovage, who were the approving voices of the County’s pursuit of the property – the alleged plans for the former store changed.

It was suggested the County might want the property to expand government offices and not for a prison. Eventually, Schuylkill Commissioners approved Administrator Gary Bender to negotiate on their behalf to pursue the property and negotiate its purchase. Bender told a disapproving Commissioner Gary Hess that the County would even put itself in debt (getting a loan) to get it.

Bender said the County had been looking to purchase that property even before GIANT had announced it was closing in Pottsville, a theory not many outside the Courthouse believed.

With Alvernia’s intent to purchase the former GIANT now a certainty, it thankfully puts all that drama to rest and forces the County to look elsewhere to likely overpay for land or a building for its long-desired pre-release prison.

A formal announcement by Alvernia at the former GIANT store property is planned for July 1.

Full Coverage

We’ve been first on the saga involving the GIANT property in downtown Pottsville since the store announced it was closing there for good last year. And it’s been quite the story.

For full coverage, check out our posts on it since about this time last year:

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