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Ground game: Updates on large midstate construction projectsDirt moving at North Cornwall Commons

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Work is underway on the North Cornwall Commons project in Lebanon County.
Work is underway on the North Cornwall Commons project in Lebanon County. - (Photo / )

Chunks of the midstate will undergo big changes over the next few years as large developments, some that have been in the works for decades, begin to take shape.

A few of those projects could spark more development and add people to a region that has been among the fastest-growing areas in the commonwealth this decade.

That’s what the developers behind the long-anticipated North Cornwall Commons project in North Cornwall Township foresee as they break ground on the first phase of the mixed-use town center at Cornwall and Rocherty roads.

The five-phase $158 million project was first proposed in 2004 and will be one of the largest developments in Lebanon County’s history. It includes about $12 million in off-site improvements, such as road widening, intersection improvements and new utility lines that could pave the way for future development.

In the meantime, site work at North Cornwall Commons is under way in preparation for a hotel, two restaurants and three office pads at the intersection of Cornwall and Rocherty roads. Construction on the buildings is expected to start later this year, along with work on 160 townhomes being built by Manheim Township-based Kenneth Homes.

“We have been working on this project for many years and I am so pleased that it is finally coming to fruition,” said Richard Welkowitz, founder and chairman of Lancaster County-based Blackford Development Ltd., which is developing the overall project in partnership with Cornwall-based Byler Holdings LLC, a family-owned company that runs several businesses, including Iron Valley Golf Club, Lebanon Valley Golf Course and Penn Cinema.

Tenants for the first phase have not yet been announced, Blackford officials said. Bruce Micciche, director of real estate for Blackford Real Estate, who is heading sales and marketing for North Cornwall Commons, said he expects tenant names will be announced in the fourth quarter.

Blackford is now pursuing second-phase approvals to begin work on 11 office parcels. Future phases would include a mix of retail, industrial and multi-use buildings.

When completed, the North Cornwall Commons is expected to span both sides of Cornwall Road and add about 500,000 square feet of new buildings, Micciche said. Expect a lot of construction and leasing activity in the area over the next three to four years.

“We believe there is enough pent-up demand for this project,” he said.

Underway or about to be

Large developments are still coming elsewhere in Central Pennsylvania, with some recently breaking ground after years of planning and delays associated with the recession and local permitting.

• The Whole Foods-anchored Shoppes at Belmont in Manheim Township, which broke ground last year, is expected to open in early 2018 at the corner of Route 30 and the Fruitville Pike. Whole Foods will be joined by Target, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Nordstrom Rack and Michaels, along with a host of smaller retailers and restaurants, including Harvest Seasonal Grill & Wine Bar, a farm-to-table chain with a Dauphin County location.

The Crossings at Conestoga Creek, which will be located nearby on Harrisburg Pike across from Long’s Park and be anchored by Wegmans, will also open in 2018. The Crossings will feature a Residence Inn by Marriott, 258 upscale apartments and a mix of local, regional and national companies to provide restaurants dining, entertainment and shopping.

Both mixed-use developments have been in the works for about a decade.

• Moving closer to construction is a town-center-style development proposed at the corner of Progress Avenue and Linglestown Road in Susquehanna Township, Dauphin County.

Since the summer of 2014, Susquehanna Township-based Vartan Group Inc. has been gearing up to build a mix of single-family homes, a senior-living campus and a variety of retail and other commercial buildings, including a limited-service hotel with up to 110 rooms, on about 60 acres.

Land development plans could get approval from the township this fall or later this year, which would set up site work for early 2018.

If that schedule holds, CEO H. Ralph Vartan said commercial tenants could open by the end of 2018 or early 2019. Vartan’s family has owned the tract, one of the most desirable lots for development because of the heavy traffic that passes it daily, for about three decades. Vartan’s late father, John, a prominent local investor and developer, tried before to develop the site.

On deck

Meanwhile, long-discussed developments for large tracts have resurfaced in the midstate as the population grows and real estate values rise.

• Florida-based Elysian Partners LLC recently unveiled a commercial plan designed to remake the Lewisberry Road exit of Interstate 83 near the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Fairview Township, York County. The early plan for the 84-acre site calls for 16 buildings and about 360,000 square feet of commercial space, including six restaurant pads and three hotels. The development, which has been dubbed Fairview Crossroads, also could include professional and medical offices, a daycare, flex industrial buildings and a pad for a convenience-store and gas station.

Elysian, which has owned the land for more than 20 years, plans to submit land development plans later this year. However, site work probably won’t begin until 2019, possibly late 2018, due to heavy transportation improvements needed around the site. Those improvements would require state approvals and would include a proposed single-lane roundabout at the intersection of Lewisberry Road and the I-83 south ramps. The roundabout would include a right-turn bypass lane for the northbound approach on I-83.

Installation of the sanitary sewer system commences at the long-anticipated North Cornwall Commons project in North Cornwall Township, Lebanon County.
Installation of the sanitary sewer system commences at the long-anticipated North Cornwall Commons project in North Cornwall Township, Lebanon County. - ()

The developer also has proposed a left-turn lane on the eastbound Lewisberry Road approach to accommodate a new access road into the development, while adding a right turn lane on the westbound approach.

• Development plans for a 503-acre farm in Middlesex Township, Cumberland County, known locally as Pennterra, may soon return to life: The longtime owner of the tract has decided to auction the property to the highest bidder.

Details of the Pennterra community, slated for a site off Country Club Road, first emerged in 2003. Plans were approved in late 2004 for more than 1,000 homes as well as a commercial town center with 243,000 square feet of office and retail space.

Development of the site by a new owner would fuel continued growth in the popular Cumberland Valley School District. Residential development has slowly been pushing west from Silver Spring and Hampden townships into Middlesex Township.

• The Hershey Trust Co. recently unveiled plans to develop a 230-acre tract off Route 322 near Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in Derry Township, Dauphin County. The village-style Hershey West End plan would blend clusters of owner-occupied and rental housing options with commercial and mixed-use buildings. Plans also call for retail shops and restaurants, as well as the potential for a hotel, among other projects. Development plans are expected to be submitted later this year. It’s possible that site work could begin as early as next year, though it is more likely that construction will not occur until 2019.

To be determined

Other large development projects in the midstate that have been on the sidelines for some time may soon come into play due to increased market activity.

But some could be sold to other developers.

Take the Swatara Plaza at The Concourse project, a 165-acre parcel on Route 322 in Swatara Township, Dauphin County. Camp Hill-based Smith Land & Improvement Corp. has owned the tract for decades and has long planned to develop it into a mix of retail and office uses, spanning 1 million square feet.

However, the tenant demand hasn’t been there from the retail end and CEO Rick Jordan II said he is looking to attract more medical or educational users to make the project work. Large health systems in the region have been steadily expanding through affiliations with smaller hospitals.

If anchor tenants can’t be found, Jordan said Smith Land is open to selling the tract to another developer, something it previously hadn’t considered. The company has owned the land for about 50 years.

“We’re just widening our boundaries on choices of things to do,” Jordan said. “When you’re a real estate developer, you are taking a risk to develop something the way you want to develop it.”

Given the hot housing market and the proliferation of warehouses in Central Pennsylvania, Jordan believes the Route 322 site could work for those uses. However, his company hasn’t pursued those options.

Other developers are focused on residential projects or projects that blend in commercial uses.

One of them is the Real Estate Collaborative LLC, an affiliate set up last year by the Cumberland Area Economic Development Corp. to secure redevelopment sites and partner with developers on new projects,

The REC has crafted mixed-use plans for the former Domestic Castings Co. property on North Queen Street in Shippensburg. A mix of retail, office and market-rate rental housing also is likely for the former Lemoyne Middle School.

“Mixed-use is what the market can bear,” said said Jonathan Bowser, CAEDC’s CEO.

But mixed-use projects could skew toward incorporating residential spaces, given the dearth of homes for sale and rising rental rates in the local housing market.

“There is definitely a need for additional residential units,” Bowser said.

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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 jscott@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal. Circle Jason Scott on .

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