Moran Industries seeking to move Harrisburg forward with Capitol View Commerce Center investment
Millions of dollars owed. The poster child for blight and an uncertain future.
During the past five years, the unfinished Capitol View Commerce Center at Cameron and Herr streets in Harrisburg has had a lot in common with the city it calls home.
But the capital city is slowly on the mend as officials and the receiver work on final pieces of a court-approved recovery plan that includes disposal of an incinerator weighed down by mounds of debt.
Last week, the failed project from embattled West Shore developer David Dodd — a 215,000-square-foot mixed-use center — took on a new owner with a strong reputation in Pennsylvania's business community for getting things done.
"This project will help to bring the tide back into Harrisburg," said John Moran Jr., president of Northumberland County-based Moran Industries, who acquired the 8.9-acre tract for less than $300,000 to cover unpaid real estate taxes, closing costs, and a small payment for creditors and administrative fees.
The logistics provider is proposing to invest $10 million by next summer to finish the structure. It will then be used to house a company logistics center, Moran's headquarters for accounts payable and receivable, and two subsidiaries owned by Moran: engineering firm JDM Consultants and Penn Strategies, a political consulting firm.
About 100,000 square feet of the facility will be available for lease.
"Upon the restarting of the construction, that day will send a very strong message to the people of Harrisburg and the surrounding communities that Harrisburg is on its way back and is in the process of recovering," Moran said.
How can Harrisburg trust that?
Dodd promised a $28 million anchor along the Cameron Street corridor before contractors walked off the site in 2008. He was recently ordered to pay restitution of nearly $21 million after pleading guilty in 2011 to felony charges of money laundering and misappropriation of federal funds.
"John is a good corporate citizen. He does what he says he's going to do and he follows through. He understands what it takes to be able to make projects go," said Jason Fink, executive vice president of the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce.
Moran, the private sector co-chairman of the Team Pennsylvania Foundation, has invested significantly in the central part of the state. His portfolio includes not only warehouse and distribution centers from Mechanicsburg to Williamsport but also oil and gas management, real estate and financial investment services.
His logistics facilities, which total more than 3 million square feet, are credited with creating more than 1,500 jobs, and he is known for seeking out redevelopment opportunities.
Moran also has pumped millions into infrastructure projects, including rail operations in Northumberland County to increase freight movement.
"He has valuable expertise in manufacturing and logistics," said Matt Zieger, president and CEO of the Team PA Foundation, the state's nonprofit economic development arm. "He has a really good understanding of global attraction and competitiveness issues in the state."
Moran has good vision when it comes to keeping an eye on the ball and attracting new investment in Pennsylvania, Zieger said.
He was part of the team that helped secure a $40 million state investment by Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., part of Foxconn Technology Group, the largest contract electronics manufacturer in the world. That includes a $30 million expansion of its Dauphin County facility, which will add 500 new jobs.
Gov. Tom Corbett is the public sector co-chairman of the foundation board. Co-chairmen of the board are part of all major committees within the organization, which means guiding the ship when it comes to making investments.
Moran also is a big Corbett supporter, having given more than $100,000 to Corbett's campaigns since 2009. The Associated Press documented his campaign contributions in a December report.
"Clearly, he's a person committed to the commonwealth and economic development in the commonwealth," David Kleppinger, chairman of Harrisburg-based McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC and a foundation board member, said of Moran. "He's interested in developing job opportunities and assisting with the quality of the education system so we have a quality workforce."
Moran makes every effort to participate in each committee meeting, Kleppinger said.
"It's a big job for someone that has a full-time job. He's done an outstanding job," he said.
On Moran's investment in Harrisburg, Kleppinger said: "Any time a business person is willing to invest in the city, it's a positive sign. With the recovery plan looking like it's going through and being implemented, it's a positive to see a property with so many setbacks purchased by someone who knows how to develop properties and businesses."
The site's Keystone Opportunity Zone designation should make it a premier option for office and flex space, Moran said.
"It's very significant in a very significant time in Harrisburg's history," said David Black, president and CEO of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and Capital Region Economic Development Corp. "I think it will attract interest."
The former Turbine Airfoil Design building, a 300,000-square-foot property at 1400 N. Cameron St., is one such site that could benefit from Moran's purchase, Black said.
TAD closed in summer 2009, citing the recession and problems in the credit markets.
"It's absolutely going to entice other investment," said Jason Fitzgerald, senior vice president of Penn Strategies, citing Moran's other community projects. "Look at the city of Williamsport. People who invested 10 or 12 years ago are very happy they did today."