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Tipping point

The section of Harrisburg’s Market Street corridor between the transportation center and Cameron Street is at a crossroads that could lead to prosperity or neglect, business leaders and public officials said.

Vacant tracts and empty buildings line the area that abuts Harrisburg’s central business district and connects downtown to the Allison Hill neighborhood.

The Patriot-News Co. announced Dec. 29 it will move from 812 Market St. to a West Shore home, which will add to the vacancies. Harrisburg’s daily newspaper has been headquartered in the city for 150 years.

Two large, empty brick buildings sit next to The Patriot-News building. There are two vacant restaurants on opposite corners of Cameron and Market streets. And the U.S. Postal Service owns roughly 10 acres it has mostly vacated and is selling across the street from The Patriot-News.

With all the empty spaces, many would say this section of the city is languishing, but officials said it is a recipe for redevelopment success.

The area has a lot of positives, including its proximity to the transportation center, state buildings, Harrisburg University of Science and Technology and a formidable work force in Allison Hill that wants to be engaged, said Ed Nielsen, who headed former Mayor Stephen R. Reed’s Office of Economic Development and Special Projects. After 28 years in office, Reed was not re-elected and stepped down as mayor Jan. 4. Nielsen now owns a Harrisburg-based consulting business called Global Strategic & Organizational Services.

Harrisburg’s low cost of living and location near major cities, including Philadelphia and New York City, will help attract developers to that section of town, too, Nielsen said. He said he envisions offices, retail and loft-style apartments for the area.

“It’s unlimited in terms of creativity,” Nielsen said. “A part of it will depend on what City Council does with tax incentives to lure industry.”

The city’s business tax incentive program is up at the end of the year, said David Black, president and chief executive officer of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and Capital Region Economic Development Corp. The council could help attract developers and businesses to Market Street with new incentives, he said.

Former City Council President Linda Thompson became mayor Jan. 4. Thompson did not respond to repeated interview requests for this story. The council had yet to elect new leadership as of press time.

Council Vice President Dan Miller stepped down to take over the city’s controller position this week. He said a major employer would be ideal in that section.

“You’ve got the train station there. It would be a great place for people to locate their businesses because employees could live in the city, and people in Elizabethtown and Middletown could hop on the train and head into work. It’s right off (Interstate) 83, too,” Miller said. “You need to talk to someone big like Blue Cross and Blue Shield.”

The city once proposed a mixed-use office and retail project in the section that never got off the ground, Black said. The chamber has had its eye on the area for years, he said. In 2008, it funded a building demolition and parking lot paving project about two blocks north of Market Street to clear room for neighboring Appalachian Brewing Co. parking. Appalachian leases the lot from CREDC.

There is great potential in the Market Street corridor even though it sits in a flood plain, Black said. There is a lot of land for developers to work with and parking, he said.

It also is part of the state’s Enterprise Zone, which means businesses can get 20 percent tax credit savings on investments and low-interest financing, Black said. He said he can envision tying access from the postal site to the transportation center.

“There might be some loft housing, big-box retail opportunities there,” Black said.

The Postal Service’s former mail sorting facility’s assessed property value is $10.7 million, and the property’s value is $2.2 million, according to the Dauphin County Tax Assessment Office.

The Patriot-News is going to sell its property, said Editor and Publisher John Kirkpatrick. It had yet to put the building on the market as of press time. The newspaper’s office building’s assessed value is $2.2 million, according to the tax assessment office. The property value is $173,150.

There are three businesses along that section of Market Street. Two are used-furniture stores and the other is public relations firm Pavone Inc.

Pavone has been at 1006 Market St. since 2000. President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Pavone revamped a 6,000-square-foot 1920s-era building for his business and recently added a parking area, he said. The business is in a section of the city Pavone said he loves and would like to expand into. It’s accessible to downtown, it’s safe and there is plenty of parking, he said.

Even with all the positives, the area is at a tipping point, Nielsen said. The City Council and developers need to work together to land projects on Market Street, he said.

Black said he plans to have conversations with Thompson regarding the future of the Market Street corridor.

“From a redevelopment perspective, it’s very intriguing. The parcels are so big,” Black said. “The flood plain limits you with what you can do there, but you have lots of parking. I think there is potential in that entire area to do something dramatic.”

 

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