The state should move quickly to sell the former Harrisburg State Hospital grounds, potentially transforming the lightly developed area into a mix of commercial and residential uses, while preserving some of its historic structures and open spaces, according to a report just sent to the General Assembly.
The 161-page report by Lancaster-based RGS Associates recommends selling the entire 295-acre property as a single package at first. If a buyer can’t be found after a 180-day bidding period, the state should consider breaking up the land into four separate, saleable parcels, the report states.
“The Department of General Services fully supports the top recommendation to sell all four parcels together in order to put forth the most appealing opportunity for potential developers and enable them to develop the property in a way that will be most beneficial to the community,” said state General Services Secretary Curt Topper.
Nearly all of the land lies in Susquehanna Township. Only five acres is in Harrisburg proper. The RGS report recommends putting the property on the market in the first quarter of 2018.
The vast property, which extends in a meandering, broken path from N. Cameron Street to I-81, is best suited for a mix of commercial and residential uses, such as houses, businesses and hotels, said the report. However, RGS recommends putting in place a restrictive covenant to preserve three of the most historic structures on the property: the dedication stone for the original 1851 main building, the 1854 Dixmont Cottage and the 1854 Dix Library.
“These buildings represent the significant movement Dorthea (sic) Dix led in establishing facilities across the state and country for the care of the mentally ill and emotionally challenged individuals,” according to the report.
The state also should place a “high priority” on protecting and preserving other Victorian-era buildings that form the Beaux Arts core of the State Hospital campus, the report states.
Moreover, Harrisburg’s five acres off of N. Cameron Street should remain undeveloped, as much of the property lies in the floodplain.
The report includes an appraisal, which gives the 132-acre parcel containing most of the State Hospital buildings a current negative value of about $8 million. The value is negative due to the high cost of asbestos abatement and demolition of existing structures. However, the value would improve to negative-$950,000 if the state made certain improvements before selling, such as utility separation and substantial asbestos abatement.
The report makes clear that the state should try to sell the four parcels together to reduce the complexity of the transaction and to mitigate the negative value of the State Hospital parcel.
The state still occupies some buildings on the grounds. However, it plans to move its remaining 800 workers to new office space before the property is put on the market.
“We look forward to working with the Pennsylvania General Assembly to get the DGS Annex off of the commonwealth’s inventory and back onto the local tax rolls where it can contribute to the economy,” Topper said. “In addition, the sale would free up the $5 million in annual carrying costs associated with the DGS Annex and allow those taxpayer dollars to be put to better use elsewhere in state government.”
To read the full report, visit http://www.dgs.pa.gov/Documents/Real%20Estate%20Forms/DGS_HarrisburgAnnex_FinalReport_02-14-2017.pdf
Click here for our prior feature story on the future of the Harrisburg State Hospital.