Stephen Capone steps carefully around an unfinished foundation expansion on West High Street in Carlisle, showing off the construction that will double the retail space on the ground floor of the two buildings and remake apartments above with an upscale flair.
Capone, a Carlisle resident and landlord, has gutted 113 and 115 W. High St. for a complete renovation right down to the floors, layout and exterior structure repairs.
"They were old buildings and really rundown on the inside," he said. "We took the good aspects of them — the beautiful architecture and location downtown — and we're breathing life back into them."
Capone's redevelopment project is just one of several that mark significant changes for the borough and could expand business opportunity for its downtown in the future, business and borough leaders said.
"(Developers and owners) are rehabbing more unsightly properties in the downtown that are really in need of it," said Carla Snyder, the retail recruiter for the business group Downtown Carlisle Association.
More and more property owners are taking an interest in rebuilding the downtown, which ultimately helps attract other developers and businesses to the area when they see there's an active interest in Carlisle, she said.
That's part of Capone's motivation to rebuild the High Street locations. Collective efforts by residents, businesses and local government are snowballing to rebuild downtown, he said.
"Since I moved up here, there's been a lot of development," Capone said. "There are a lot of developers and people in the area who are passionate about Carlisle."
Miss Ruth's Time Bomb, a vintage clothing store, will move back into the space at 115 W. High St. once renovations are complete this summer, he said. Capone still is searching for a commercial tenant on the first floor of 113 W. High. Extensive renovations to such buildings bring them up to current standards and codes, which helps attract and keep businesses downtown, he said.
While Carlisle is improving, it hasn't always been easy.
Sometimes, the borough has a bit of an inferiority complex about itself, said John Bogonis, a property owner who has been renovating buildings in the borough for about five years.
"Carlisle has so much potential, but everyone says you can't do that here," he said.
The accomplishments of Bogonis and his wife, Nadeen, include 1 S. Hanover St., which is the home of Courthouse Common Espresso Bar & Bistro on the first floor and upscale apartments above. They also renovated the building at 29 S. Hanover St. for upscale apartments; it houses the Employment Skills Center, a job training and employment assistance nonprofit, on the first floor. Last year, the Bogonises renovated a former bank at 1 N. Hanover St. to start The Vault, a catering and event business.
By the end of April, they'll open The Carlisle Bakery at 35 S. Hanover St., a former dance studio and appliance store. Bogonis had the building gutted and rebuilt the inside. He said he's expecting retail to do much better this year.
Carlisle is seeing a business resurgence that's better than expected, Snyder said. That's kept restaurants and other shops open and propelled people such as Bogonis and Capone to invest more, she said.
Carlisle's traffic-calming experiment, known as the road diet, has helped, too, Bogonis said. Slower traffic and improved signals made the borough safer for people to walk around, he said.
The renovation of downtown apartments to include midlevel and upscale options also is attracting more people to live downtown, he said.
"It's changed. For years no one was building rental projects," said Matt Madden, a partner with South Middleton Township-based Hooke Hooke & Eckman Realtors and a borough councilman.
Property owners such as the Bogonises proved there was a market in Carlisle for upscale rentals, which many thought wouldn't work, Madden said.
In addition, large industrial tracts just outside downtown, such as the former Tire & Wheel and IAC factories, could feed clientele to restaurants, retailers and other businesses once the former factories are redeveloped.
Carlisle Events, the company that organizes the town's famous car shows, is cleaning up the IAC plant on Spring Garden Road, but it doesn't yet have plans for redevelopment, spokesman Chris Hann said.
The Tire & Wheel factory on College Avenue is in pre-demolition phases this month, said Thomas Lobasso, principal of New York-based RE Invest Solutions. It wants to redevelop the land with medical facilities or other commercial uses.
"Carlisle's never been in a bubble. It's always just been flat; what we have is what we have," Bogonis said. "I think we're looking at Carlisle just hitting its stride."