Harrisburg University of Science and Technology is taking the next step in its growth and making a bigger financial commitment to downtown Harrisburg, which could spark additional development in the capital city.
With student enrollment rising and a shortage of office space available to accommodate future hires, HU has purchased the second floor of 225 Market St. from the Whitaker Center for the Science and the Arts.
The university spent $800,000 on the deal, which closed last week. The office purchase will give it 16,000 square feet of space and about 40 additional offices to house university staff.
“It allows us to keep growing here in Harrisburg and it helps us support Philadelphia growth as well,” said Eric Darr, president of HU.
Last year, HU finished a roughly $5 million fit-out of the 10th and 11th floors of its 16-story, 326 Market St. facility, which added classrooms and office space. As that construction project was wrapping up last fall, Darr told the Business Journal he was already having conversations with his team about the next academic building for HU.
HU has seen its enrollment grow to more than 4,200 students between undergraduate and graduate programs. That number includes about 220 new undergraduate students and more than 3,600 graduate students.
Many new undergrads are seeking a bachelor’s degree in computer science, Darr said, or are pursuing forensics and interactive media degrees. Grad students are largely concentrated in project management and data analytics programs.
“We’ve been looking for a good six to eight months for more office space,” Darr said, as the 10th and 11th floor spaces were nearly full the day they opened.
The university, which received state approval for operations in February 2005 but struggled early on to grow its student body and manage its facility debt, also is finishing off about 45,000 square feet of space at a satellite location in Philadelphia.
HU has three full-time employees in Philadelphia and about 15 to 20 part-time faculty members. It is looking to hire two more full-time faculty members.
Darr said he expects to hire about 30 more people this year, split between faculty and support staff. The university currently has about 130 full-time employees and 280 part-time workers.
The continued growth at the university, including the additional professional staff, could help fuel restaurant and retail expansions. That development has been occurring with growth in new apartments and other mixed-use redevelopment projects.
“This is a great development for downtown,” said Brad Jones, president and CEO of Harristown Enterprises, the development company responsible for much of the recent growth downtown. “It’s going to help encourage us to provide more amenities and apartments. Those (university employees) are tremendous customers in the downtown.”
A Harristown affiliate manages the building at 225 Market St. for the condominium association that owns it.
The plan is for the Whitaker Center to move out of the second floor sometime in October and HU would begin to move in November, Darr said.
“It’s a luxury we just don’t need,” Ted Black, president and CEO of the Whitaker Center, said of the large space, which houses just 13 people.
The nonprofit venue plans to renovate space in the basement of the Whitaker Center at 222 Market St. and move those employees across the street.
Whitaker Center has been using 225 Market St. since 2004. At one time, it had up to 30 employees working there, but that number has dwindled over the years. Black is trying to reinvigorate the complex.
Not only does this deal benefit HU and Whitaker Center but also downtown businesses, Black said. “We love seeing HU expand. A rising tide will raise all boats around here.”
Meanwhile, HU continues to look for spaces downtown that could serve as tech-focused business accelerators, similar to the privately developed Blackberry Technology Center tucked off Third and Market streets.
This story has been updated with comments from Ted Black and Brad Jones.