East Pennsboro Township’s next big thing began with a big bang.
Implosion of the vacant six-story Senate Plaza office building this spring signaled a new future for a property that had lain dormant for four years. Plans for redevelopment of the site also brought a positive focal point to community that has spent nearly two years waiting to learn the fate of major employer Rite Aid Corp., whose headquarters are located nearby on Hunter Drive.
A mix of retail and hospitality businesses planned for the site won’t turn it into a region-wide destination, developer Mark DiSanto says, but it could become a local destination that will change the character of the surrounding area, which is dominated by Holy Spirit Hospital, medical offices, and a number of commercial properties, including Rite Aid.
Already confirmed are a Sheetz gas station and a Starbucks coffee shop, while as-yet unnamed fast-food and casual sit-down restaurants, an unnamed hotel and a five-story apartment building also will rise on the site. Work is expected to begin later this year, with businesses expected to open starting in mid-2018.
“We think it will be a great benefit for the community,” said Mark DiSanto, CEO of Triple Crown Corp., a Lower Paxton Township-based developer and property management firm.
“People won’t have to travel as far. A lot of this will even be walkable for surrounding office workers and residents, he said. “Obviously we think it’s a great redevelopment opportunity.”
Community leaders agree.
“I’m also happy that this development will bring jobs to the area, and be a great meeting point for families and residents to grab lunch, dinner, coffee, etc., and to stay over when visiting central Pennsylvania,” said East Pennsboro Township Commissioner Charley Gelb.
The 230,000-square-foot Senate Plaza building was built in 1974 for Pennsylvania Blue Shield, which later became Highmark Inc. The heath insurer left the building in 2013 as it was looking to cut real estate costs and consolidate local operations.
Triple Crown and partner J.C. Bar Properties Inc. acquired the 16-acre site last summer in an effort to reposition it. Unable to find a new occupant, they imploded the building in May. Cleanup work continues at the site.
“The redevelopment of the Senate Plaza site is beneficial for several reasons. Properties that sit vacant, no matter for how long, do not provide jobs, opportunities or contribute to the tax base,” said George M. Book, Jr., president and CEO of the West Shore Chamber of Commerce. “A building of that size would have been challenging to reuse in its existing state.”
Book predicted that Triple Crown’s plans “will make it conducive to many types of businesses and will give that area a new and different feel.”
In the meanwhile, East Pennsboro and the region continue to wait for word on what will become of Rite Aid, the national drugstore chain whose takeover by Illinois-based competitor Walgreens Boots Alliance was abandoned last month amid a long delay in obtaining federal regulatory approval.
Instead, Walgreens proposed a new plan, under which they would purchase 2,186 stores — about half of Rite Aid’s total — as well as three distribution centers and related inventory from Rite Aid for $5.175 billion in cash.
That deal is now awaiting antitrust approval, and it leaves the community wondering, again, what it could mean for Rite Aid’s long-term corporate presence in East Pennsboro.
Gelb said he’s hopeful that the new Senate Plaza development could be an attractive talking point in any discussions about keeping Rite Aid’s offices on Hunter Drive.
DiSanto feels strongly that the development will have a positive impact on all of its neighbors.
“It will be very supportive of the market,” he said.