Land planner expects final report this fall for former Harrisburg State Hospital grounds

General Assembly would need to approve any potential sale of the complex

The team studying the former Harrisburg State Hospital grounds expects to finalize its list of recommendations for future redevelopment of the site by the fall.

Jason Scott

Mark Hackenburg, a principal with Lancaster-based RGS Associates Inc., said prior to Tuesday night’s public input session in Susquehanna Township that several options are still being considered, but general sentiment for the emptying and aging state property has been mixed-use development.

“People see this as a unique opportunity for the region, not just for Harrisburg or the township,” Hackenburg said.

The 305-acre complex is near the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center.

RGS was hired in January by the state Department of General Services to come up with options for the General Assembly to consider regarding what is known as the DGS Annex.

The goal would be to respect the historic and natural features of the property, Hackenburg said, expecting adaptive reuse of some of the buildings and new development.

Hospitality has been a possibility because of the location of the property, not far from Interstate 81.

Susquehanna Township officials’ feedback has been to see less residential development and more business-oriented projects, Hackenburg said. All but four-and-a-half acres of the property are in the township.

The rest is in Harrisburg, but that land is mostly in the floodplain or there are steep slopes and wooden hills that make development unlikely.

“Ultimately the outcome will be tied to what the township may do from a zoning perspective,” he said, as the 140-acre main parcel is in conservation zoning, which limit redevelopment possibilities.

The state is not obligated to sell the property, Hackenburg noted. But the buildings have reached the “end of life” in many instances, which makes it difficult to justify the $6 million annual maintenance costs.

There are 45 buildings on the site that account for more than two million square feet of space.

The study area is spread across four distinct lots, so the expectation is that each lot would be separately marketed for sale. Landmark Commercial Realty Inc. is one of the partners involved in the study and would be responsible for identifying potential real estate suitors, should the General Assembly approve a plan.

But redevelopment isn’t going to happen overnight, Hackenburg said.

Market analysis, including development of financial models for various uses and appraising the property, is the next phase in the study. RGS will then finalize its report for state lawmakers.

It took about 10 years of discussions about what to do with this real estate before DGS commissioned this study. It could take “decades” to overhaul the site, he said.

Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse recently recommended in a letter to the commonwealth that the main parcel be annexed to benefit Harrisburg.

“Boundary expansion in such a manner presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Harrisburg to establish a sustainable tax base for its future recovery,” Papenfuse said.

Voter referendum would need to drive that plan. Township and state officials have said that idea has very little chance of happening.

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