The Borough of Carlisle has been through tough times in recent years, enduring the exit of industries that had fueled its prosperity for decades. IAC, Carlisle Tire & Wheel and Tyco Electronics provided good jobs at good wages, and their loss was a blow to both the economy and the town’s identity.
The natural response to such losses is to hold out for replacement industries to fill the empty factories and employee parking lots. That’s not realistic, however, for a number of reasons. Foremost in Carlisle is the fact that the sites are in the heart of or adjacent to residential neighborhoods.
For that very reason, though, the closures are an opportunity for growth and revitalization that few small towns get to realize. Because of their location, the sites can be reintegrated into the borough in ways that more typical industrial sites — relegated to the fringes and often isolated in special factory zones — cannot be.
Carlisle is a great place to live and raise a family. It has preserved its historic character along with a recognizable downtown with a variety of retail businesses, restaurants and entertainment venues. It’s also a walkable town, its appeal enhanced by the “road diet” instituted in 2011 to calm traffic on the two state highways that cross in the heart of downtown.
But Carlisle faces one major obstacle to continued health that it shares with most cities and boroughs in the commonwealth — it is landlocked. As a result, for the past decade, it has watched residential and retail growth move to the surrounding townships, taking its tax base with it.
Hence, borough officials acted wisely in deciding to rezone all three vacant properties for mixed-use commercial and extend the tax abatement zone to include them. The IAC and Tire & Wheel sites are being cleared, and the new owners of the IAC site expect to build shops, restaurants, condos and a boutique hotel. Medical offices and some residential development are a possibility for the Tire & Wheel site.
Meanwhile, a consultant hired by the borough will convene workshops March 11-14 to collect the public’s views on how they’d like to see these properties be developed.
Rather than yearning for an unrecoverable past, Carlisle looks to be moving forward. We urge residents and business owners to attend a workshop and to speak up. While not every idea could or should be implemented, the level and nature of interest expressed will be one of the many factors developers will weigh in deciding whether to invest in Carlisle.