LeSean McCoy’s Harrisburg apartment plan gets green light

A firm headed by former Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy got the go-ahead from Harrisburg City Council this week to develop a 48-unit apartment building in midtown Harrisburg.

The $8 million complex on the 1500 block of North Sixth Street, near the new Sylvia H. Rambo United States Federal Courthouse, will be known as the Savoy.

Harrisburg-based Vice Capital, the company led by McCoy, a Harrisburg native, plans to demolish three unoccupied buildings at 1522, 1524 and 1526 N. Sixth St. in late March. Two of them date from 1912.

The Savoy will be a four-story, 62,370-square-foot edifice that will include studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units. Ten of the apartments will be set aside as affordable.

Steel Works Construction is the general contractor. Its president, Jonathan Bowser, said site work should start in mid- to late summer. The first floor of the Savoy will feature commercial space that could be office, a restaurant or retail, he added.

Construction will likely take a year to complete.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

York County receives $12.5M in state redevelopment money

State Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York, announced Tuesday that York County received $12.5 million in grants from the state’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program that will benefit the 95th Legislative District.

Grant recipients, award amounts and the projects being funded include:

· City of York Health and Safety Complex ($1.5 million): The Pine Street School (Sylvia Newcome Center) will be renovated to house the consolidated operations of the Bureau of Health. A public health clinic is planned within the renovated space as well as the addition of a mental health division in conjunction with the police department. A multipurpose room will offer activities for students in grades 3 through 12. Classroom space will be provided for theater, dance, photography, cosmetology and physical fitness education and activities.

· Community Progress Council Integrated Services Building ($5 million): The council will use these funds to support the construction of a new, integrated services building that’s more cost effective to operate. Construction, land acquisition and parking improvements as well as soft costs such as design, legal services, permitting, inspections and construction management are included in the funding, too.

· York County Agricultural Society Redevelopment ($4 million): The funds are for renovations and upgrades and overall modernization of the buildings and venues throughout the York Fairgrounds. Numerous improvements are needed to the grandstand and buildings. Perimeter fencing around the fairgrounds will be constructed and/or upgraded to provide additional security.

· Newberry Township ($2 million): This grant are part of a project for a multiuse emergency services building.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Is Harrisburg poised to become Pennsylvania’s next economic engine?

View of Harrisburg from Lemoyne Pennsylvania
View of Harrisburg from Lemoyne Pennsylvania

Results from a recently released Harrisburg Regional Economy Baseline Analysis found professional services among the area’s “key industry” with remarkable and unexpected similarities to larger urban centers like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Finance, insurance, real estate, and rental and leasing (FIRE) made up 23% of the economic output with professional and business services at 17% and education and health care making up 15% of the Harrisburg Capital Region’s (HCR) gross domestic product (GDP) the analysis reported.

The analysis found housing, business equity and inclusion are areas in which HCR can better promote and increase.

“The expectation is to drive growth. It will help us work smarter and better, that’s what data can do. It’s a tool to help drive your strategy and tactics,” said Ryan Unger, president and CEO of Harrisburg Regional Chamber and CREDC in Harrisburg, which released the analysis in August.

GDP, employment and business establishments were the three criteria used to measure the economies studied in the analysis.

Harrisburg economic development officials will use the data to create a strategic vision to help expand the region’s employment, economy, GDP and business establishments, according to Unger.

A surprise finding in the analysis was the Harrisburg region is more like big city urban centers in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh where professional services are vital sectors, rather than closer neighbors like, Lancaster and York, where manufacturing is higher on the key industry list, Unger said.

The Harrisburg region and analysis includes communities in Cumberland, Dauphin and Perry counties.

“The growth since the Great Recession [2008] was smooth and more like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Lancaster and York [experienced] more volatility and more stops and starts,” said Naomi Young, the former director of the Center for Regional Analysis at the Economic Development Company of Lancaster County.

The strongest growth predicted for HCR is in professional and business services and health care, the report said. By 2028, the highest in demand positions are expected to be those for office and administration jobs, with transportation and materials moving in at second.

The first economic growth analysis in more than 20 years, the data was pulled from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Pennsylvania Center for Workforce Information and Analytics, and U.S. Census reports.

While Young has since moved to San Diego, California, she participated in the public release of the Harrisburg data analysis via Zoom on August 30, 2022.

“We often think of south central Pennsylvania as one monolith. And with the strong manufacturing base in Lancaster and York, and our strengths in business and health care, it makes sense to collaborate,” Unger said.

The manufacturing and labor sectors can strengthen and compliment the region’s jobs and talent pool moving forward, he explained.

In York and Lancaster the analysis said manufacturing, along with FIRE sectors and health care are its key regional income producers.

David N. Taylor, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association in Harrisburg, said a diverse economy in the mid-state region helps shore up the broader business base during economic downturns.

Taylor said it’s important to view – and respect – the region’s economy as an organism – or living entity – made up of and influenced by many factors.

“The best that policymakers and leaders can do is to shape an environment where investment is welcome, and the market can identify the potential opportunities – that’s how you realize the benefits,” Taylor said.

He said sectors like manufacturing and professional services can interface through a variety of job positions employment opportunities.

“Professional services positions are hired by manufacturers, like human resources, payroll and legal. Those are services manufacturing companies pay, and pay for, to serve their businesses,” he explained.

Unger said using the data to predict future economic trends in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh can help guide Harrisburg’s economic vision and strategic plans for the future – giving HCR a lens into its near future along the way.

“If we see things happening in Philadelphia or Pittsburgh we can adjust and that gives us a leg up” to adjust, make course changes and adapt, Unger said.

Other findings from the analysis included:

  • Private sector industries have driven HCR’s economic growth in recent years.
  • Harrisburg’s regional footprint has more transportation and warehousing than Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
  • The central Pennsylvania location differentiates it from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and increases its attractiveness to the logistics and transportation sectors and its neighbors in York and Lancaster.
  • Remote and telecommuting positions in professional services make Harrisburg and its suburbs attractive communities to attract and retain professional talent.
  • Telecommuting and job flexibility creates a broader geography from which to pull new employee talent beyond HCR’s borders.
  • Many professional and job positions are being filled by those outside the immediate HCR area, because of telecommuting opportunities.
  • State government and public sector activity has been on a slow, but steady declining factor contributing to Harrisburg’s GDP – private sector growth has taken up the slack.
  • Professional services and the health care sector have been two main economic engines recently in HCR, the report said.

“As we go forward we’ll use this to help us develop strategies, and businesses, and our partner (organizations) can use it. It will help us inform tactics going ahead,” Unger said.

Gross domestic product, or GDP, employment and establishments were the three criteria used to measure the economies in the analysis.

Housing equity and business diversity emerged as areas the chamber and CREDC will look to its partners to help grow, he said.

“Housing, equity and diversity are things we felt were important to better understand,” Unger said.

The analysis found only 23% of business enterprises were owned by non-whites, and that non-white owners are “under-represented” in its largest business sector: Professional services and business.

Non-white workers are “over-represented” in lower wage jobs in health care, accommodation and food services, the analysis said. With less than 1 in 5 businesses owned by non-whites, HCR faces challenges to create more inclusion, the report said.

The analysis used three criteria: Entry rate of establishments, labor force size and affordable housing as benchmarks for economic vitality.

Unger and his colleagues looked at the pandemic impact and how telecommuting can provide opportunities for business growth fresh talent can impact the region through 2028.

Indicators of economic vitality include the new entry rate of establishments and new business starts, trends in size and affordable housing trends.

Birth rates are an indicator of entrepreneurial impact as well as the human, social and financial capital needed to support growth, according to Young.

Business exit rates are low, and there have been a lower number of business starts “but fewer of them are dying,” she said.

Harrisburg eyes $12 million FNB Field upgrades

Harrisburg is seeking a $6 million grant from the state’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program to help pay for upgrades to FNB Field, home of minor league baseball’s Harrisburg Senators.

Matt Maisel, the city’s director of communications, said via email that the overall project cost is $12 million. If and when the RACP money is received, “we will figure out the rest as part of a three-way partnership between city, county and (ball)club. We will not do bonds.”

The improvements are needed because Major League Baseball has changed its requirements for player development spaces, including clubhouse size, commissary areas, weight rooms, meeting rooms, storage, training rooms, female staff facilities, etc., Maisel explained.

So to become compliant with the new standards, FNB Field must undergo some upgrades.

The RACP website said the City of Harrisburg’s application mentions that the $6 million would be used for new field lighting and renovation of existing locker rooms; a new building, on stilts, inside the stadium perimeter that will serve as the new home team clubhouse; an expanded boardwalk to provide more area for more activities and local organizations to have concourse tables during games; and scoreboard replacement.

The new Senators’ clubhouse will be at street level on the third base side where the kids’ play area currently is, Maisel said. Also, it will be raised out of the flood plain. The play area will be moved elsewhere within the ballpark.

He said the existing clubhouse footprint houses both teams but will be repurposed to support the visiting team as the Senators’ squad moves to its new accommodation.

The Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program funds are incredibly vital to the project, Maisel said. “The No. 1 goal is for the Senators to remain home in Harrisburg on City Island. We’re fortunate to have a great relationship with the county where they may be able to help out some, but we need the state to come to the table as well and pitch in. It’s ultimately too soon to tell if this will happen with or without state funding.”

In addition to being the home venue for the Senators, FNB Field hosts baseball games played by Central Penn College and numerous high schools as well.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Harrisburg rents inch up in April

Median rents in Harrisburg ticked up slightly in April after flattening the previous month.

According to the latest report from Apartment List, month-over-month rent growth was 0.8%, up from a 0.1% decline in March.

In April in Harrisburg, median rents were $1,019 for a one-bedroom unit and $1,184 for a two-bedroom apartment.

Chris Salvatti, senior economist with Apartment List, noted a rent trend divergence between the city of Harrisburg and the larger region.

Since March 2020, the beginning of the pandemic, “the median rent in the Harrisburg metro area has increased by 31%, far outpacing the 18% growth rate of our national rent index over the same period,” he wrote.

“The Harrisburg metro ranks No. 15 among the nation’s 100 largest metro areas for rent growth since the start of the pandemic. Over just the past 12 months, rents in the metro are up by 18% (compared to 16% nationally). Meanwhile, rents in the city of Harrisburg have increased by 37% since the start of the pandemic and 14% over the past year.

“In other words, rent growth in the city of Harrisburg was outpacing the metro-wide average in the first part of the pandemic, but over the past year, the opposite has been true.”

Apartment Advisor also named Harrisburg as the mid-Atlantic region’s “best city for new college graduates” in its 2022 rankings.

The list scores and ranks the 100 largest U.S. metro areas based on such economic and desirability indicators as rents, average salaries for degree-holders, and access to recreation and nightlife.

Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, according to the Apartment List report, Pittsburgh is tied for the fifth slowest metro-level rent growth (+9) since March 2020 among core-based statistical areas with populations of more than 1 million, the second slowest (+8%) in the past 12 months and the slowest (-1%) in the past six months.

Nationally, median rents rose 0.9% in April. “So far this year, rents are growing more slowly than they did in 2021, but faster than the growth we observed in the years immediately preceding the pandemic,” the Apartment List report said.

“Year-over-year rent growth currently stands at a staggering 16.3%, but most of that growth took place last spring and summer. Over the first four months of 2022, rents have increased by … just 2.5%, though we’re only beginning to enter the busy season for the rental market, when the bulk of annual rent growth typically occurs.”

In April, rents were up in 93 of the nation’s 100 largest cities.

Major markets in the Sun Belt have experienced some of the fastest increases in the past year, including Miami, 30%; Orlando, 28%; and Tampa, 28%.

Since March 2020, the top three are Tampa, 41%; Miami, 38%; and Phoenix, 38%.

The only metro areas still below pre-pandemic rent levels are San Francisco (-3%) and San Jose (-1%).

Apartment List also noted that its national vacancy index stands at 4.6%, up from a low of 3.8% in August.

PUC approves sale of York wastewater system  

Pennsylvania American Water Co. received final approval Thursday from the state Public Utility Commission for its $235 million purchase of the York city wastewater system, the PUC announced. 

The City of York and the York Sewer Authority entered into an agreement two years ago to sell the system to Pennsylvania American Water, which filed an application seeking PUC approval of the transaction in July 2021. The commission held a public input hearing on the proposed acquisition Jan. 5 of this year. 

As part of the agreement, Pennsylvania American Water said in a previous release, it will request approval to preserve York city’s current wastewater rates for a minimum of three years, offer employment to all wastewater system employees, and contribute at least $50,000 in donations to nonprofit organizations serving city residents. 

The York wastewater system serves 13,700 customers in the city and 30,000 through municipal agreements with the townships of Spring Garden, Manchester, West Manchester, York and Springettsbury and the boroughs of North York and West York. Last May, Mechanicsburg-based Pennsylvania American Water purchased the Royersford borough wastewater system, which serves nearly 1,600 customers, for $13 million. 

The release from the utility also noted that it has experience with larger municipal systems like York’s, having acquired the wastewater networks of McKeesport in 2017 and Scranton in 2016. 

New mixed-income housing development to feature high-end, low-income housing 

Sycamore Homes is awaiting approval from the Harrisburg City Council. PHOTO PROVIDED

A new mixed-income housing development in Harrisburg is looking to reimagine what it means to offer low-income housing with 23 new high-end one-bedroom apartments. 

Sycamore Homes is a new $3 million development set to be formally pitched to Harrisburg City Council next month.  

The project, helmed by Harrisburg-based Fernandez Realty Group, is part of a larger effort by the development firm to provide housing to low-income individuals that challenges how people in the region think of low-income housing, said George Fernandez, CEO and founder of Fernandez Realty Group, 

George Fernandez. PHOTO/PROVIDED

“I’m a product of a single mother of three, victim of domestic violence, whose family never qualified for social assistance programs,” said Fernandez. “I grew up in low-income housing that did not feel safe, failed to meet our basic needs, and diminished our sense of pride and dignity. My vision for Sycamore Homes is to ensure underserved communities never experience what my family did and always have adequate access to comprehensive social assistance programs that give people the right tools for building a prosperous life.” 

The proposed development is planned to begin construction in mid 2022 at the 1400 block of Sycamore Street in South Harrisburg. The 23 one-bedroom units could be completed as early as the first quarter of 2023 and would be priced at approximately $900 a month. 

The project would offer mentorship and education opportunities to residents. Each unit at the development is 500 square feet and features one bedroom. Fernandez expects residents to live at the units for one to three years before moving on to the next chapter of their lives. 

“We want to bring people in who need a fresh start, help them get off their feet, help connect them to a job or professional development,” he said. “These are considered transitional units.” 

Sycamore Homes’ high-end, low-income apartment concept borrows from similar developments in major metro cities across the country, said Fernandez. 

“They have greenspace built in, restaurants and retail on the bottom floor. You can work, play, live and dine where you live,” he said. “That’s the concept we want to bring to Harrisburg. We want to change the mindset of what low-income housing looks like.” 

If approved by the city, Sycamore Homes would be the largest project to date for Fernandez Realty Group, which currently operates both residential and commercial properties in Dauphin County. Fernandez hopes to take the concept into other areas with predominantly African American and Hispanic American low-income families such as Berks County, Reading and Hazleton. 

Fernandez founded the firm during the pandemic with the purchase of ten units in Susquehanna Township. The 33-year-old entrepreneur also leads Latino Connection, a marketing and communications agency supporting Pennsylvania’s Latino community. 

Crispus Attucks, York, receive $19 million from the state for community improvements 

Gov. Tom Wolf has approved more than $19 million in grant funding for community development projects in York County. 

The grants are part of $54.5 million approved for 16 projects statewide. The funding will support expansion projects, provide opportunities for additional employment training, job creation and community services, the Governor said in a press release. 

The Codorus Greenway project, a York City initiative expected to create a 1.4-mile greenway between Codorus Creek and the York Heritage Rail Trail, is set to receive $10 million. 

“York residents have been dreaming of a greenspace along the Codorus Creek for more than 100 years and this project will make that dream come true,” said Wolf. “I am proud to award $10 million to help the community transform the landscape of York, make the city a hub of revitalization, and create a welcoming and safe place for residents and visitors to enjoy.” 

The funding is supported through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP). The following York County organizations also received funding through RACP: 

  • Crispus Attucks York, $4 million for an African American History Museum at the vacant Crispus Attucks York-owned lots. 
  • York City, $2 million to replace heating and cooling units, upgrade stage lighting and electronic marquee, renovate and redesign the concession area for infrastructure improvements at Strand Capital Performing Arts.  
  • Spring Grove Borough, $3.2 million to renovate a former school building for the new Roth’s Church Road Community Partnership, an incoming multi-generational community hub. 

Harrisburg police liaison joins WITF as senior VP


Harrisburg-based media outlet WITF has hired Harrisburg’s director of community relations and engagement, Blake Lynch, to be its senior vice president and chief impact officer.

Lynch is set to take over the role on August 30. As senior vice president and chief impact officer, he will oversee community engagement, fundraising, corporate sponsorship and marketing, according to WITF.

A lifelong resident of Central Pennsylvania, Lynch acted as community policing liaison for Harrisburg for nearly a year before becoming the city’s director of community relations and engagement this year.

In the director role, Lynch served as a liaison between the Harrisburg Bureau of Police and the community, government and media. Prior to joining the city he was director of development at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Harrisburg.

“We are thrilled to welcome Blake to the WITF team,” said Ron Hetrick, WITF president and CEO. “Given his depth of experience in building community connections, fundraising for nonprofit organizations and advocating for his neighbors, Blake is well-positioned to make a lasting, positive impact on our region. WITF looks forward to inspiring lifelong learning with him on board.”

WITF provides public media news and programming to 2.3 million people in 19 counties through public television, public radio, websites and its production services division. The company is a member station of PBS and NPR.

“I’ve admired how WITF serves our region for a long time and how the programming influenced my childhood – which is why I joined the Board of Directors in October,” said Lynch. “I’m excited to join the team and add my passion for the community to the already great work they do, and to help impact the region on a larger scale.”

York Water takes over sewer and refuse billing for York

Monday marks the first day that businesses and residents of the City of York will receive their sewer and refuse bill from York Water Company.

The city has used York Water’s water meter readings to calculate its sewer bills for decades and would then send the readings to a third-party billing company.

Last year, the city and York Water entered a contract to skip the extra step. The city hired York Water to issue the bills, a process that the company was already doing when issuing water bills, said J.T. Hand, CEO and president of the York-based utilities company.

“Coincidentally, all 14,000 residents of York are York Water customers and the city of York refuse customers,” Hand said. “They are two different bills but the nexus between those bills is our water meter readings.”

Prior to the change in billing, the process for York Water to calculate the sewer bill and send it to the third-party vendor created a 45-day lag.

“It created confusion for the residents of the city of York,” Hand said. “They were looking at this month’s water bill but the sewer bill would be last month’s water consumption.”

Hand said that with both the water and sewer bills distributed by the water company, customers should expect to receive the sewer and refuse bill only five days after their water bill.

With billing for both utilities under one roof, customers will be able to direct all questions related to water, sewer and refuse billing to York Water Company.