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Harrisburg mayoral candidates: Gateway projects will go on

The southern gateway and northern gateway projects are Harrisburg Mayor
Stephen R. Reed’s blueprints for economic development over the next two
decades.

The southern gateway and northern gateway projects are Harrisburg Mayor Stephen R. Reed‘s blueprints for economic development over the next two decades.

The projects call for billions of dollars in private investment in the city’s southern entrance of downtown at Front, Second and Paxton streets, and throughout the North Sixth Street and North Seventh Street corridors between Reily and Maclay streets. The city is applying for a $100 million federal grant for land use planning, design work, utilities and road improvements.

But after serving as mayor since 1982, Reed will step down at the end of the year, leaving businesses wondering what will become of his plans.

The candidates vying for his job, Democrat Linda Thompson and Republican Nevin Mindlin, said if elected they would not abandon the projects.

Mindlin said he would alter the plans. Thompson said she is not versed on the southern gateway, but she thinks the project is a good idea. She also said she would continue to pursue the northern gateway project. It’s a good concept that would help improve the North Sixth Street and North Seventh Street corridors, she said.

The northern gateway plans call for widening North Seventh Street, from Reily to Maclay streets, from two lanes to four. The city wants to widen the street to help attract mixed-use development along the North Sixth Street and North Seventh Street corridors and surrounding areas, said Dan Leppo, director of the city’s department of building and housing development.

“Where you have more traffic, you will have more commercial interest,” Leppo said.

Rather than widening Seventh Street, Mindlin said he would rather look into adding commuter rail service along the Seventh Street corridor to encourage the use of mass transit and make the city more pedestrian friendly. He said he would like to see traffic entering Harrisburg intercepted into garages along Cameron Street, where it could run North Seventh Street to the southern gateway.

But the northern gateway project is in motion. Leppo would not say when he thinks work would start, but the economy has slowed their progress, he said.

PennDOT, which is managing the project, is working out final utility relocation needs. It will bid to begin work, he said.

The funding needed to widen Seventh Street is in place and rights of way are being acquired by the city, so it makes sense to move forward with the project while the money is available, said David Black, president and chief executive officer of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and Capital Region Economic Development Corp. The city would not be able to use an existing railroad line to put in commuter rail, Black said. That means infrastructure would have to be built and other rights of way would have to be acquired to put in commuter rail, he said.

“You have to somehow cross the train lines,” Black said.

The northern gateway is a more immediate project than the southern gateway, Leppo said. The southern gateway could happen within 10 to 20 years, he said. It would sit at the entrance of downtown at Front, Second and Paxton streets. The city would extend Third Street from downtown. The project would double the size of downtown, Leppo said.

The difference between the southern and northern gateway projects is that more infrastructure has to be put in place to make the southern gateway project work, Black said.

The southern gateway would take place in three phases, he said. To make it work, the city must partner with investors to build a plinth, which is a raised platform that developers would construct buildings on to keep them out of the flood zone, Leppo said.

Mindlin said developing the southern portion of downtown makes sense, and he is not against the southern gateway project. But in the short term, he said he would rather see vacant tracts downtown filled, and see additional floors go up on other buildings downtown.

Both projects should be looked at, Black said. The candidates will have to sit down and figure out what their priorities will be, he said.

“Let’s get the northern gateway done then focus on the southern improvements,” Black said.

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