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State seeking space for 880 employees on Harrisburg State Hospital groundsHospital grounds being eyed for redevelopment

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Built in 1895, the former Harrisburg State Hospital administration building was featured in the film “Girl, Interrupted.” It is one of many buildings still standing on the grounds, which the state is planning to transfer to the Dauphin County Redevelopment Authority.
Built in 1895, the former Harrisburg State Hospital administration building was featured in the film “Girl, Interrupted.” It is one of many buildings still standing on the grounds, which the state is planning to transfer to the Dauphin County Redevelopment Authority. - (Photo / )

Moving day could be coming soon for the roughly 880 state employees still toiling at offices on the former Harrisburg State Hospital grounds.

The state Department of General Services is hoping to relocate them by next spring as it prepares to transfer ownership of the nearly 300-acre site to the Dauphin County Redevelopment Authority, which plans to look for private developers interested in reusing the 295-acre site.

A transfer could take place early this year, though county officials have been mum about the timeline for wrapping up a deal and what it might look like.

The department, meanwhile, is asking for proposals for new office space in Dauphin or Cumberland counties where it can move state workers currently at the hospital grounds.

DGS spokesman Troy Thompson said the majority of state employees left on the property work for the Office of Administration and the Department of Human Services.

“This is part of the plan to prepare the annex for sale,” Thompson said.

Work in progress

State lawmakers approved a resolution in June 2017 to sell the four lots and 295 acres that make up the hospital grounds, known as the DGS Annex property. It is located near the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center. The property is largely in Susquehanna Township, though a sliver of the land is in Harrisburg.

The state hospital closed in 2006 but the sprawling property still costs the state about $5 million per year to maintain. There are 45 buildings on the site in varying states of disrepair, which account for more than 2 million square feet of space.

The state has been looking to reduce annual costs for maintenance and security on the campus. In 2015 and 2016, more than 850 state workers moved from the annex to Strawberry Square in downtown Harrisburg.

To move out the remaining employees, the department said it needs about 115,000 to 130,000 square feet of contiguous office space near the capital city. Thompson said the goal is to relocate workers by May 2020, with the department planning to lease a new site for a term of 15 years, plus two five-year options.

The state held an event last week with potential developers to discuss its needs. Thompson said about 25 people attended. The department is now awaiting proposals and has set a March 15 deadline for submissions.

“We will review proposals in March and then continue to work on finding a final awardee,” he said.

Thompson added that the 2020 occupancy date is a target. If more time is needed to construct new facilities or retrofit existing spaces to accommodate state workers, he said contingency plans will be developed.

“We may or may not need a new building,” he said.

Awaiting development

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After state lawmakers signed off on a sale of the property in 2017, the site garnered attention as a possible home for Amazon when the online retailer began searching for a site for its second headquarters.

But after Harrisburg failed to make Amazon’s list of 20 finalists in early 2018, public discussions about the grounds died down.

The Dauphin County Redevelopment Authority and state Department of General Services have been negotiating a deal since 2017 to transfer the property to the county in order to facilitate redevelopment plans.

County and economic development officials have touted the site, given its proximity to Interstate 81, as a potential spot for corporate growth.

Dave Black, president and CEO of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and Capital Region Economic Development Corp., has floated the idea of turning the hospital campus into a modern setting for a large corporation, keeping some buildings and demolishing others to make way for new ones.

In 2016 the state hired Lancaster-based RGS Associates, a civil engineering and land planning firm, to study the hospital grounds and make recommendations about the property’s future. The general sentiment has been to see a mix of commercial uses.

A hotel has been mentioned because of the location of the property, though the Harrisburg area has seen steady hotel construction over the past three years.

Officials have said it’s possible that multiple partners might take on redevelopment, given the size of the property.

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Jason Scott

Jason Scott

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

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