Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Developer pitches apartment plan for former Salvation Army building

The Salvation Army Harrisburg building in Midtown

In 2003, Michael Lam got his first taste of Harrisburg real estate when he bought the building that housed his uncle’s Chinese restaurant.

He still owns the Good Taste building in Midtown, even though his uncle has since retired.

Lam, however, can’t get enough of Pennsylvania’s capital city. Though he lives in Queens, N.Y., he’s acquired more than a dozen other properties, mostly old, small buildings with commercial space on the ground floor and apartments upstairs. In fact, he owns many of the buildings on the 1000-block of N. 3rd Street.

He’s now poised to begin his biggest project yet. He has a contract to buy the former Salvation Army Harrisburg building in the heart of Midtown, hoping to turn it into a 25-unit apartment building.

“The units aren’t huge, but they’ll be very done very nicely,” he said in an interview on Monday. “I’m going to bring a lot of New York style to it. They’ll be very trendy, very nice.”

Lam envisions a series of two-floor, duplex-style units, 24 one-bedroom and one two-bedroom apartments. He expects rents to average around $800 a month, with $1,000 a month for the two-bedroom, parking included for all units.

The Salvation Army Harrisburg parking lot

Several years ago, the Salvation Army Harrisburg put its long-time home at Green and Cumberland streets on the market, after it made a decision to relocate to the 500-block of S. 29th Street, near the city line. It made that move last year.

The organization has been asking $560,000 for the 18,500-square-foot building, which was constructed in 1954, plus another $330,000 for the 34-space accessory parking lot across the street. A second, smaller lot off of Penn Street has another eight parking spaces.

Before he can complete the purchase, Lam will make his case this month before the city’s Planning Commission and Zoning Hearing Board. He needs a variance and special exception for the project, which exceeds the residential density allowed under the site’s current zoning designation.

His project, he said, makes sense as this area is almost completely residential already. In addition, the sale would put the long-time exempt property onto the tax rolls, produce construction jobs and create a full-time property manager position, he said.

If all goes according to plan, he hopes to start work in May and complete the project by the end of the year.

“It creates jobs, tax revenue,” Lam said. “It just makes sense for everyone.”

In the meantime, he plans to continue work restoring two small buildings he bought recently on the 900-block of N. 3rd Street and wants to finalize a renovation plan for the former Downtown News building on N. 2nd Street, which he purchased last year.

“I’ve seen Harrisburg come a long way over the last 20 years,” he said. “I’m very optimistic about it.”

The Harrisburg Planning Commission is slated to hear this proposal on Wednesday, March 4, with the meeting beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the city government center. The case is scheduled for the Zoning Hearing Board on Monday, March 16, starting at 6 p.m. in the city government center.

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