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CPBJ Extra Blog

Office conversions a small piece, but part of the conversation

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There isn't a week — at least a month — that goes by where I don't hear about an older office building in Harrisburg being converted to a residential use.

Some of the city’s most prominent investors — H. Ralph Vartan, J. Alex Hartzler and Dan Deitchman — are routinely finding good opportunities to renovate commercial structures in favor of a few market-rate or higher-end apartments.

Vartan just announced a historic renovation.

It’s not really a trend. Buildings are bought and sold all the time in urban areas. Uses occasionally change. Sometimes that means a major overhaul.

And we’re only talking a handful or maybe up to a dozen units in most cases. But at least it’s something.

It won’t make much of a dent in growing the city’s population, but maintaining isn’t all bad. There’s a half-decent chance those tenants are working in the city or at least patronizing some of the downtown businesses.

And certain retrofits have been known to yield a lower-level retail or dining establishment. Another plus.

The biggest thing these projects tell me is that there continues to be pretty good demand for attractive housing in the city. Plus, people have the means to cover higher rental rates.

Yeah, maybe a fair number of those folks have government-related jobs and they’re only in town a few days a week. They don’t have that sense of community or may not care much about their impact on Harrisburg.

There are others in that mix that do, though, and they want to call Harrisburg their home over the long run. Maybe a few of them will even buy a place in the city or raise a family here at some point.

Maybe what’s here now has them optimistic about the city’s future. Maybe those small real estate deals will collectively add up or push others to make even bigger investments.

That may take a few more actions aimed at economic development by city officials. Yeah, I’m thinking zoning and comprehensive plan updates and maybe a tax incentive. Let’s see how things shake out by year’s end.

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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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