A place for people, not just vehicles.
That’s the guiding principle behind the Market Square Master Plan, which Harrisburg Young Professionals (HYP) shared today in a presentation at the Hilton Harrisburg.
The preliminary plan envisions a redesigned Market Square in which green spaces and public areas replace buses, parked cars and acres of hardscape.
“This is about taking what’s there now and transforming it,” said Fred Merrill, a principal at Sasaki, an urban design and architecture firm based in Watertown, Mass. “We want to make it the social and cultural hub of central Pennsylvania.”
Last year, HYP hired Sasaki and Harrisburg-based K&W Engineers to reimagine Market Square as a public space. In October, they held discussions with more than 200 area stakeholders to gain input.
The result is a substantially altered Market Square with a lawn area, a public performance space, small plazas, better lighting and additional trees and seating. Cars still would wind through the area along 2nd Street, but the road itself would not be curbed, integrating more seamlessly with the square.
Importantly, the current bus transfer area would be moved to space near the Harrisburg Transportation Center, a relocation recently endorsed by the state Department of Transportation.
“People want a more active, street-level, family-friendly place to go,” Merrill said. “They want it to be an outdoor living room, if you will. It would be a real mixing bowl for the city.”
Market Square was part of the original, circa-1785 plan for Harrisburg and was the site of the city’s first market area, dismantled in 1889. It currently is dominated by several large structures, including the Hilton, the Penn National Insurance Building and the Dauphin County Administration Building. One corner also serves as a hub for CAT buses.
In his presentation, Merrill showed a photograph of Market Square from around 1900, remarking on the integration of commerce, housing, pedestrians and transportation, a mix of uses he sees as the future for the area. He also would like Market Square to be better integrated with both the river and greater downtown area.
“The common denominator is people interacting with each other in a warm and friendly way,” he said.
Meeting organizers today said that the project would now move from the planning phase to the implementation phase, which presents a new set of challenges.
First, the project would need to be handed over to another entity, possibly the Harrisburg Downtown Improvement District, which could shepherd it to completion. That entity would take over from HYP, which raised money for and spearheaded the initial, $150,000 study phase.
“We need to get someone to champion this,” said Marc Kurowski, a principal at K&W Engineers.
Secondly, funds would have to be raised for the implementation. The plan’s price tag has not been finalized, though K&W expects to release a cost estimate shortly, Kurowski said.
Meron Yemane, former HYP president, said he expects the money to come from state and federal funds, not from city tax dollars, adding that the city has been briefed on the proposed plan and has voiced preliminary support.
Third, the bus transfer station would need to be moved. In its “Transit Oriented Development Master Plan,” PennDOT ranks relocating the station to the other side of the Market Street underpass as its sixth of seven priorities, meaning that it likely is at least five to 10 years away.
“The relocation of the intercity bus terminal is an important component of the overall development strategy, but will take time to acquire land, design a structure and complete construction,” according to the Transit Oriented Development Master Plan executive summary.
The Market Square project, however, could begin before the station moves, Merrill said. Initial work likely would focus on improvements to other corners, such as the areas outside the Hilton Harrisburg and the county building, he said.
“We now have Phase 1—what could be,” he said. “We now have to go to Phase 2—how can this happen?”