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CPBJ Extra Blog

Why negotiate in public?

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Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse has been pretty clear about his early objectives, especially those tied to economic development in the city.

He talked about them throughout the campaign last year. He talked about them over his first 100 days in office. He is out nearly every week talking about measures that have been introduced or plans to move the capital city forward.

The business community has been buzzing with optimism as it waits to see what happens with a few big-ticket items.


It looks like we’re going to get a zoning update — hopefully one that factors in concerns expressed by those in the business community and doesn’t just blow through without a few amendments on July 8.

That’s when the City Council could vote on proposed changes.

Some — including Adam Meinstein, owner of the former U.S. post office property on Market Street, which has been filling up with industrial tenants — are hoping to delay that vote at least until permitted uses are sorted out for the proposed districts.

No one is arguing that the zoning code shouldn’t be updated. Being “grandfathered in” is the concern for Meinstein and his tenants.

“It could definitely impact us with where we want to go or what we want to do,” said Mike Fink, vice president of Exhibit Studios, which stores trade show displays in nearly 40,000 square feet of leased space. “Adam has turned that (building) into something.”

Exhibit ran out of space at its Cameron Street headquarters a few years ago, Fink said.

The plan would put the facility in a “downtown center” zone, which could limit Meinstein’s ability to grow what he has built in an area riddled with stagnation. He also utilizes the property, purchased in 2011, for surface parking.

“This is one of the few productive things in that zone,” Meinstein said, calling the current proposals “cold water to the face.”

He added: “It’s hard enough to get people to move downtown.”

Of course, we’re also hoping for a comprehensive plan update that should guide everything else, including zoning code changes.

Tax abatement

Maybe we’ll finally get that renewal of a tax abatement ordinance. The last one expired in 2010.

We know the mayor and his staff have been working behind the scenes to build some consensus on a plan before the big public unveiling.

And that’s fine. I don’t believe there should be a public negotiation over tax abatement until there is a detailed plan — whether that’s a five-year plan that exempts 100 percent of improvements, a 10-year plan that phases in tax payments by 10 percent each year or some other arrangement.

Let officials sort through all that and offer an official plan before criticizing or offering alternatives.

Yes, investment occurs without tax breaks. It also speeds up with them in place. Significant investments by business add employees and customers, which helps the city’s tax base in more than one way.

An attractive business climate lessens the tax burden on residents because commercial projects are helping to cover the costs of infrastructure and essential public services.

Yes, the rich developers get richer with tax abatements because they are advancing projects — maybe multiple projects — that generate a return. They can also make money without them if they can acquire properties on the cheap and get them back to productive use.

They are more likely to build more often in communities with more favorable tax structures. Remember that. Tax abatement suspends or phases in their tax bill on improvements to reduce upfront costs associated with development.

Blighted and abandoned buildings do nothing to help the city’s tax base. Turning them over to private developers generates tax revenue for the city.

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Jason Scott

Jason Scott

Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin County. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal. Circle Jason Scott on .

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