For Dan Deitchman, owner of Lower Allen Township-based Brickbox Enterprises Ltd., development is never a question of “if” but rather “when.”
"That's why we all continue to invest and look at the future, not just today," said Deitchman, who has been in real estate development for more than a decade — active in Harrisburg since 2006.
Deitchman and his wife, Jennifer, established Brickbox at the latter part of 2010 as a way to consolidate the management of investments that go back to 2001 and explore further development opportunities.
The small company, which focuses mainly on Cumberland and Dauphin counties, has been fairly aggressive in its approach of seeking out historic renovation and reuse opportunities in urban communities like Harrisburg.
Unlike some of his peers, who buy undeveloped land and other properties to hold for future use, Deitchman prefers to acquire and execute immediately on a plan to reuse a site.
"Our goal is to see the fruit in our lifetime," said Deitchman, who generally shies away from the public spotlight.
Last year, Brickbox and Harrisburg-based GreenWorks Development completed the redevelopment of the historic Furlow Building in Midtown Harrisburg for market-rate apartments and first-floor retail.
That $5 million project, known as the COBA Apartments, received $2.5 million in Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, or RACP, funding. Once an idle eyesore, the structure has new life as an anchor near the Broad Street Market.
Deitchman, who is working on the former Barto Building on North Third Street across from the state Capitol — 50 condominium units are planned — prefers redevelopment to new construction.
In his previous job, he built hospitals.
"These are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities," he said of redevelopment. "They don't change hands every day. These properties haven't received the attention they deserve."
He relishes the idea of making them anchor properties again and places where people want to live or do business.
"Long term, what does it do? It always leads back to the tax base and revenue," he said. "It's about getting people back into the city. If we had 100,000 residents, most problems would go away."
Harrisburg is a city of about 50,000 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The city had about 90,000 residents in 1950, but that number declined over the next five decades before stabilizing with the 2010 Census.
Deitchman's first Harrisburg property purchase was 100 N. Cameron St., the site of PA CareerLink Capitol Region.
In 2009, he finished revamping the historic Riverview Manor building on Front Street into 76 condo-style apartments.
"We were skeptical whether it was the right move," he said, citing the recession.
But half of the building pre-sold, and it was sold out by the middle of 2010.
"That proved we were on the right track," Deitchman said.
Brickbox also has taken an active role in creating student housing on Market Street for Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.
Deitchman said he doesn't try to fix things that are out of his control. He always remains positive and said the city's financial woes, driven by the massive incinerator debt, will be resolved one way or another.
"We like real estate because it will always be there," he said. "There is a small bump in the road right now, but it's going to be overcome."
He said the city has many strong features that don't exist in other areas — from the Susquehanna River to the workforce and draw of it being the state capital.
"Once this negative thing is out of the way, I think people will refocus on the positive," Deitchman said.
Moving into the capital city
During the last four years, development projects involving Harrisburg 2020 members have added an estimated 1,100 to 1,200 residents, according to data provided by the group.
Harrisburg 2020 is an ad hoc committee of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber & Capital Region Economic Development Corp. that meets regularly to discuss areas of development opportunity in the capital city.
It includes many of Harrisburg's core real estate investors.
The majority of the city projects — about two dozen — were assisted by the city's last 10-year tax abatement ordinance, which expired at the end of 2010, or other state incentives.