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Sports Hall of Fame comes down to wire

After 15 years of ups and downs, a National Sports Hall of Fame appears to be on its way to Harrisburg’s City Island.

After 15 years of ups and downs, a National Sports Hall of Fame appears to be on its way to Harrisburg’s City Island.

Financing for the $31 million project should be secured by the end of next month, said John Levenda, president of the National Sports Hall of Fame Foundation, which is leading the project.

To get a $9.5 million grant through the state Redevelopment Capital Assistance Project fund, the foundation has to prove that it can come up with additional financing to pay for the hall by the end of July, Levenda said.

“We are applying for a conventional bank loan of $25 million. That should cover the rest of the cost,” Levenda said. “And we are asking the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) to guarantee 60 percent of the loan. That will make it more attractive to banks.”

Levenda expects to hear from USDA officials soon. Harrisburg Mayor Stephen R. Reed assured Levenda that a ceremony marking the project’s start would happen next month, Levenda said.

Reed was not available for comment as of press time.

Former Gov. Tom Ridge approved the grant to the foundation in 2001, Levenda said. But the money may not be guaranteed, said Chuck Ardo, deputy press secretary for Gov. Ed Rendell. “They (the foundation) submitted a binder of paperwork to the budget office,” he said. “And it has to be processed.” Ardo did not offer any other details.

Officials in the governor’s budget office did not return phone calls. State Sen. Jeffrey E. Piccola (R-Dauphin County) did not return calls, either.

State Rep. Ron Buxton, a Dauphin County Democrat, said he hadn’t seen all the revisions to the project and declined to comment on its status.

“At the time it was announced, it was compatible with the improvements taking place on City Island. But it has zigzagged since then. I’m not sure what the project entails,” Buxton said.

Originally, the hall of fame was to be funded by private dollars, Buxton said. When public money got involved, the project began to languish, he said.

Construction of the six-floor, 120,000-square-foot building is expected to start next year and wrap up in late 2009 or early 2010, Levenda said. What was originally presented as a Pennsylvania sports hall of fame will include accomplishments in sports across the nation at all levels to attract more visitors, Levenda said.

The building will be adjacent to the Walnut Street walking bridge and will extend into the island parking lot. It will feature 60,000 square feet of museum space on the lower three levels. The top three levels will house 60,000 square feet of office space.

The museum will feature a 10,000-square-foot full-service restaurant and bar with a deck facing the city skyline. It will cost about $3.6 million annually to operate the museum. Levenda expects the restaurant and office space to cover the overhead. All of the artifacts in the museum will be donated or placed there on loan, Levenda said.

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