Harrisburg University has completed the purchase of four parcels of land in downtown Harrisburg, bringing it a step closer to starting construction of a new academic tower and hotel.
In mid-October, HU bought 24, 26 and 28 S. 3rd St., as well as 222 Chestnut St., for a total of almost $3.2 million, according to Dauphin County property records. As the new landowner, the university, next month, will begin going through the city’s planning and zoning processes, said HU President Eric Darr.
If all goes according to schedule, HU expects to begin clearing the site, which includes demolishing three small, 19th-century-era buildings, in late spring, and initiate actual building construction in the early summer.
“The plan was always to put together those different parcels for the project,” Darr said.
Darr said that he expects a two-year construction timeframe for the building, now projected to be 19 stories tall, with completion expected in the summer of 2021. Originally, the university had planned for the building to rise more than 30 stories, but the size was scaled back due to higher-than-anticipated costs.
“The cost of the project exceeded what we felt comfortable with,” Darr said.
As now envisioned, the 280,000-square-foot building will have two main components. An academic portion will house HU’s health sciences programs, as well as several other disciplines, including advanced manufacturing and interactive media. An on-site boutique hotel will include 190 rooms, Darr said.
HU, Darr said, is currently “in negotiation” with its hotel partner, which will operate the hotel privately. He added that he’s confident that Harrisburg easily can absorb a new hotel, as, already, the university attracts a large population of visiting students, who often must stay in hotels outside the city.
Many HU graduate students work in high-tech jobs throughout the United States and commute into Harrisburg several weekends per semester to take classes on site. In all, HU enrolls nearly 6,000 students, the far majority of whom are graduate-level.
“We bring in the demand on the weekends,” Darr said. “To have a hotel just makes sense to us.”
The original project plan included space for student housing, which, Darr said, remains a critical need. However, HU now expects to convert some underused downtown buildings to housing, which would be a less expensive alternative.
“We’re evaluating other properties close to us to retrofit for student housing,” Darr said.
The revised plan also eliminated parking from the project, which, Darr said, shouldn’t be an issue as the site is near several parking garages. The plan also calls for a first-floor restaurant.
In addition to shepherding the project through the city’s land use process, the university, in the coming months, will focus on firming up financing for the $130 million building. Darr said that he expects the academic portion of the project—estimated at $95 million—to be financed through a combination of university reserve funds and commercial loans or bonds. The hotel portion, estimated at $30 to $35 million, will be financed by the hotel owner.
Alex Wing of Stantec, an Edmonton, Canada-based design and engineering firm, is leading the project. Wing also designed HU’s existing, 16-story building on Market Street.
For more information about Harrisburg University, visit http://harrisburgu.edu.