Imagine a more pedestrian-friendly public plaza with water features and live music in the heart of downtown Harrisburg.
It could happen. Harrisburg Young Professionals last week brought in a team of urban planners and land use experts to begin a master planning process that could remake Market Square at Second and Market streets.
Massachusetts-based Sasaki Associates and Harrisburg-based K&W Engineers led a series of stakeholder meetings at the Hilton Harrisburg to talk with community and business leaders about possibilities for the four-corner intersection, potential challenges to a transformation project and notable community spaces across the country that Harrisburg could emulate.
Currently, there is a transfer center for public buses on one corner of the intersection. Moving that transfer center down Market Street to the nearby Harrisburg Transportation Center has been discussed for years as a way to revitalize the square and give downtown office workers and visitors new retail, restaurant or entertainment options.
On the other three corners are the Hilton, the Dauphin County Administration Building and the Penn National Insurance building. The M&T Bank building at 213 Market St. is on the same corner as the transfer center.
HYP, an organization known for bringing public- and private-sector leaders to the table, believes development opportunities exist on all four corners at Second and Market streets. That could include working with building owners to repurpose first-floor spaces for new shops and eateries. Other mixed-use projects could be a possibility as apartment growth downtown has been accelerating over the last two years.
Adding new amenities on the square could also help spark other business or entertainment activities downtown or on nearby City Island, and maybe lead to other improvement projects that might attract more visitors to Harrisburg, officials said.
Limiting automotive travel on parts of Market Street to improve pedestrian access downtown was one idea pitched during stakeholder meetings. Adding more lights along the Susquehanna River and creating new programming — maybe new fitness activities — on City Island were others. A seasonal ice-skating rink was mentioned for the plaza.
Over the next few months, the consultants will organize the data collected from meetings and tours of the city. They will then hone in on common themes and generate a series of recommendations for city officials and community investors to consider implementing. A report is expected by March 2018, according to HYP officials.
Public-private partnerships often support large community revitalization projects because of the high costs. Of course, there is no guarantee that a study will lead to downtown changes.