In a world born of strife and disease, Harrisburg plants its flag. Magnificent buildings arise. Neighborhoods are filling up with new houses. People gather to celebrate life.
So is it 1921 or 2021? Harrisburg has seen a surge in other ages, but right now a perfect storm of trends is driving a renaissance that is changing the cityscape for the 21st century.
Twenty-seven projects. This is the number of planned or ongoing development projects counted by Harristown Enterprises and the number continues to grow. Total city investment: $ 601 million.
Many projects are grouped together in a few blocks of Midtown Harrisburg. What could be going on there?
While the federal court on 6th Street and Reily Street isn't the only cause of the boom, it's the catalyst city leaders hoped for in preventing the powerful U.S. government from cutting a cut in the heart of downtown and instead build a once contaminated area about a mile away.
The Historic Harrisburg Association recently spoke to two federal judges who wanted to get to know their new neighborhood and "be part of the community," said executive director David Morrison.
"We believe this is a big part of that development – federal employees who want to live in this part of Midtown as well as people who do business with the US courts," he said.
One major project clearly driven by the courthouse is Reily House – seven floors of apartments, retail stores, city grocery stores and restaurants, and a 500-space courthouse garage neatly camouflaged to the rear.
"This is a really creative approach to killing a few birds with one stone," said historian Jeb Stuart.
Harrisburg's historical "development peaks and development pauses" have never been driven by individual causes, said developer Derek Dilks. Some of today's projects are “obviously” due to the courthouse; others are like its – renovating townhouses, offices, and a midtown church to meet demand for Class A homes, marketable homes, and retail space.
"There is a waiting list for the best and newest products," he said. “People in older homes paying the same or a similar rent will switch from older to newer stocks. Hopefully this will encourage the owners of these older buildings to redevelop. "
Using their historical perspective, Morrison and Stuart emphasize that the city has had several growth spurts.
The City Beautiful Movement of 1901-02 was sparked by the construction of the new State Capitol and a comprehensive plan to clean up a filthy city. In the 1920s, growth pushed north, creating the Zembo Mosque, William Penn High School, the Italian Lake, and new homes. Historic districts created in the 1970s – earlier than in many cities – protected the priceless architecture from the wrecking ball. The "Harristown Plan" of the 1980s focused development on the inner city.
For today's resurgence, all of these phases add up to good bones. Harrisburg has a robust inventory of buildings sought after by character-hungry apartment hunters and restaurateurs.
"We have really nice architecture here," said Brad Jones, President and CEO of Harristown. "No question. Two of our projects are such adaptive reuses. I recently showed this (27 projects) slideshow to someone in Philly and they said, "Wow, you picked some nice buildings."
Developers and community groups are increasingly turning to historic Harrisburg to review their adaptive reuse ideas. Developers who respond to market demands – driveways in the 1920s, walkable in the 2020s – are a key force for growth, according to Morrison.
"The church is a helpful partner, but it is not a monolithic rule that is preventing this from happening," he said. "It's a kind of partnership that took place back then and that we're seeing now."
At the gateway
While the courthouse is a visual representation of Midtown's development, people fail to see the interest Harrisburg's director of economic development, Nona Watson, has in projects across the city. She won't cite the projects yet, but "the wheels are turning in other parts of the city."
"They use what is happening to branch out further and further," she said.
From her place, Watson seeks to formulate a “holistic approach” that brings together existing assets, funding and multiple partners to revitalize not just buildings but entire neighborhoods. It worked organically for Mulder Square on Mulberry and Derry Streets, she said, and now it's a model for areas like Camp Curtin to extend the courthouse redevelopment juice further up the 6th Street corridor.
There at Camp Curtin Gate, Adam Mouse converted the long-abandoned Hudson Building on 6th Street and Maclay Street into The Atlas in 1923. With no development experience, Mouse has done a huge project that hopefully will help smooth out the neighborhood. rough areas. “He worked with neighbors and community groups to design the Atlas Items with the goal of creating a market or grocery store and possibly a community center for the exclusive use of neighbors.
"I'm happy to say that we can come here and really help create a safe environment, a lighted environment with things that only help the region organically," he said.
Affordable housing is high on Watson's agenda. Under the direction of Mayor Eric Papenfuse, she is working with members of the city council to develop an affordable housing plan that could encourage developers to mix affordable housing with marketable housing units. And, as she notes, affordable housing means housing for middle-income people as well as low-income people.
"We have to have housing at all levels," said Watson. “If you have too much affordable housing, especially in a certain area, then you have a concentration of poverty. If you talk about all market prices, then you have gentrification. "
Watson sees the difference the development spurt makes in – yes – grocery stores. Food chains that previously rejected their overtures want to join now.
"The development will attract more investors, it will attract more companies, and of course you will need more housing," she said. "Everyone wants to be on the winning team."
From a developer's point of view, Harrisburg is "manageable," said Mouse. Out-of-state developers dreading the cost of big city redevelopment are straining their budget in Harrisburg.
"We have the Farm Show," said Mouse. “We have the Susquehanna River, which is beautiful. You have the historic, long-term buildings and residences across the region. It's a beautiful city that is actually very tangible and that's why you see all these big projects. "
Harrisburg homes are "scorching hot," said Jones. One of the reasons: The verification that secondary and tertiary cities – the terms are common – are preserved by metropolitan residents who have become converts who work from home.
"There are many flights from bigger, more expensive cities to places that offer strong value propositions but still offer you some of the things you loved about your urban environment," said Jones, whose company is increasing two-bedroom apartments in response builds. "If I only have to work in the office a few times a month, I can live in Harrisburg."
Big city businesses and people seek value in tertiary markets, Dilks agreed.
"If you're in Chicago, DC, or New York and just want to get out of town, you'll come to a smaller market like Philly, Harrisburg, or Lancaster," he said.
Dilks is adapting its homes to the remote working trend, with bonus rooms or sliding walls to keep the dog from crashing Zoom calls. Such rooms could also be attractive to lobbyists and others who regularly travel to Harrisburg for government reasons. Once they rented an office and a hotel room. Now they want a single room all year round.
Like Watson, Jones “sees more projects in the pipeline across town. The more you see, the more there will be. The success of one project leads to the development of the next. "
Dilks plans to wait for the aftermath of the pandemic before deciding on his next projects. In the meantime he is one of those developers who "do what we do because we love the city".
“We love the architecture. We love development. There happens to be a market here that supports our activities, ”he said. “These are the ingredients you need. You need someone who loves it and you need a customer who values what you do. "
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