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Gondola proposed to connect Jim Thorpe, Flagstaff

Published October 13. 2018 07:14AM

A gondola connecting Jim Thorpe and nearby Flagstaff Mountain was first proposed as an April Fools’ joke by the Times News back in 1976.

But Andrew Roberts, owner of the Marion Hose Bar, is completely serious when he talks about building a gondola which would deliver tourists from a spacious parking lot atop Flagstaff right into the heart of the town.

“I began looking at it as a parking congestion relief — a way to park cars remotely and have congestion relief for downtown. It also is a ballroom I think is worth saving. If something isn’t done soon, it’ll be too late to save that building,” Roberts said.

Roberts has been taking preliminary steps toward a $14.5 million project that would build a gondola, hotel and restaurant, and revitalize the century-old Flagstaff Ballroom.

In order for the project to make financial sense for investors in Roberts’ development corporation, Flagstaff Park LP, a hotel is needed for the project.

As part of the early steps, he recently approached Jim Thorpe borough to see if it would be possible to connect to the public sewer system.

“When you jump up to a hotel size, the numbers come together and you get a return on investment that someone will actually invest in,” Roberts said.

“There are a whole bunch of complicated parts to this. One that is a little cart-before-the-horse, but is still important, is how we do the sewer.”

Flagstaff Park LP would be the third attempt in the past decade to build a hotel at Flagstaff.

Preliminary plans call for a five-story hotel with a restaurant on the top floor. It would sit next to the renovated ballroom, replacing the current Flagstaff restaurant, which was last used in 2008. The ballroom would also undergo a $1 million renovation.

The proposed gondola would run 2,600 feet from Flagstaff to the intersection of Race and High streets, where he would also renovate a stone barn as a ticket counter and retail space.

The proposed landing spot was chosen so the gondola would not cross any public roads or railroad tracks, and deliver visitors right outside many downtown shops and restaurants.

Leitner-Poma of Colorado has been tapped as the contractor to build the gondola. Roberts said it would be a “pulse-style,” where two sets of four cars would stop at the top and bottom at the same time to load and unload. The ride will take about four minutes.

The project would also return a Ferris wheel to the Flagstaff site. The project has a $2.5 million grant from the state’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program.

Roberts says the first step toward making his Flagstaff project happen is an agreement with Jim Thorpe that would allow him to run sewer lines through borough-owned property on the mountain, connecting with the borough’s public sewer system somewhere along Lentz Trail or Chestnut Hill Road.

That is different from previous proposals which called for a line to be bored down to the base of Mansion House Hill.

To do that, the borough not only needs to ensure it has the capacity at its wastewater treatment plant, but it must also approve of his plan to run it across the borough-owned property as well as property owned by Jake Arner, whose Awesome View Properties has proposed an 86-lot subdivision across Flagstaff Road atop the mountain.

Arner says he has no financial interest in Roberts’ project, but he supports the idea of running the sewer line through his property.

Borough Manager Maureen Sterner said an agreement on sewer can’t take place without an approved land development plan. However, she said it would be possible for Flagstaff Park to pay a fee to reserve the capacity at the wastewater treatment plant.

Roberts said that would not be a problem, but he would like some indication that the borough will support the route of the sewer line before Flagstaff Park seriously commits to engineering work on the project.

“I can’t do all the engineering on this project unless I get some approval on that,” he said.

Councilman Jay Miller said he likes the idea of eliminating traffic, but he has several concerns, including pedestrians crowding at the base of the gondola.

“I envision a Disney World line down here between Race Street and High Street,” he said.

Roberts distributed packets outlining the proposed development to council and said he would encourage them to take time and share their concerns about the project.

He didn’t say whether there is an immediate time line to submit plans for the project, but the proposal says the goal for completion of the project is 2021.

“This project is hard. The numbers are not easy. This is a way to do a whole bunch of good things I think for the borough and solve some problems,” he said.

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