Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Bigger Duck Pond: Downtown Improvement District seeks renewal, expansion.

Under an expansion plan, State Street would become part of the Harrisburg Downtown Improvement District.

What a difference a couple of years can make.

The last time the Harrisburg Downtown Improvement District (HDID) was up for renewal, the city government put the nonprofit through the wringer—and on a short leash.

This year? Smooth sailing.

“I’m impressed with what you’ve done,” City Council President Wanda Williams told Executive Director Todd Vander Woude during a hearing last week. “You’ve done good work.”

The HDID is seeking a five-year reauthorization of the district, which expires at year-end. In 2015, council refused to grant a full, five-year term, offering only two years with instructions to become more visible and active. Back then, some council members—along with several business owners—said that HDID wasn’t doing enough to attract people downtown and make it more of a destination.

Given the positive reaction of council, it appears—mission accomplished.

During the hearing, Vander Woude outlined a few recent highlights: last year’s “Dino-Mite Summer” public art project, this year’s “Discover the Ducks Downtown,” the St. Patrick’s Day parade and run, several new murals, more bike racks, brightly painted planters, a new safety substation.

“Our focus is making downtown clean, safe and beautiful,” he said.

Getting firm council support is particularly important this year, as the HDID is seeking to expand its northern boundary from Pine Street to State Street, bringing 58 more properties into the district and upping the organization’s annual budget by $40,000 to $820,000. Each commercial property is assessed a 1.75 mil surcharge on its city property taxes to cover the cost of HDID services, which also include cleaning, safety and beautification measures.

Property owners within the proposed district have 45 days from last week’s council hearing to vote against the district. Forty percent of properties within the boundary must vote against it for reauthorization to be defeated.

This summer’s “Discover the Ducks Downtown” is one of many recent projects spearheaded by the Harrisburg Downtown Improvement District.

With three properties on State Street, WCI Partners will have to kick in an extra $10,000 in annual tax, representing one-quarter of the total revenue for new properties in the expanded territory, said company President Dave Butcher. Nonetheless, he supports the proposal, as State Street, he said, is one of the most visited and photographed streets in the city.

“It’s helpful because we’ll have long-term institutional support for the (State Street) median in maintaining it and keeping it beautiful,” said Butcher, a member of the HDID board.

Currently, Butcher passes the hat among his fellow State Street property owners to help maintain the two-block long, landscaped median that runs from Riverfront Park to the state Capitol building. If its boundaries are extended, HDID will maintain the median, while also offering street cleanup, planters, flowers and other benefits.

Despite the proposed expansion, at last week’s meeting, no property owners told council that they object to the plan. Council President Williams made the only critical remark, pleading with the HDID to do what it can to bring retail back to downtown Harrisburg.

Vander Woude was optimistic. Over the past few years, several developers have converted worn-out office buildings into high-end residential space, and there’s now a waiting list for those apartments.

“I’m hopeful that, with the residential growth downtown, retail will follow,” he said.

To learn more about the Harrisburg Downtown Improvement District, visit www.harrisburgdid.com.

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