A stalled building project may have a new lease on life, as the Harrisburg Redevelopment Authority has bought back dozens of undeveloped lots in the city’s MarketPlace Townhomes neighborhood.
In late June, the authority purchased 58 lots from S&A Homes for $128,672, re-acquiring the Midtown properties it had given to the State College-based developer almost 14 years before.
“The Redevelopment Authority had to take back the properties because S&A was not going to develop them,” said Mayor Eric Papenfuse. “The Redevelopment Authority is now looking for a [development] partner for those lots.”
In the 1970s, the authority began acquiring parcels just south of N. 6th and Reily streets, which eventually included the Zommit Cleaners site, an industrial property that required soil decontamination.
By 1998, 38 single-family homes had been built in the MarketPlace neighborhood, named for its proximity to the Broad Street Market. In late 2005, the authority sold most of its remaining inventory—71 lots—to S&A for $1 apiece in an area bounded by N. 6th, James, Reily and Sayford streets.
Over the next three years, S&A built 13 houses, but stopped when the financial crisis hit in 2008. No homes have been constructed since, leaving numerous grassy, overgrown lots, many set off by white wooden fences that are now falling down.
Papenfuse said that he regards the re-acquisition as a first step in getting the project back on track. The authority is eager to receive proposals from qualified developers, he said.
“By taking them back, HRA can find a new development partner,” he said.
Bonnie Rhoads, board president of the MarketPlace Home Owners Association, said that she welcomed news that the city had taken back the lots. Residents, she said, long have wondered about the future of their neighborhood, since S&A seemed uninterested in resuming the project.
A few years ago, the company installed utilities for several lots at N. 6th and Reily but no development followed.
“We’d love to see something done with these lots,” she said. “I’m open to listening to whatever the mayor or the Redevelopment Authority wants to do.”
Papenfuse said that he believed the area now may be desirable for home buyers given the construction of the U.S. courthouse nearby. He said that the city would welcome development proposals that included novel ideas, such as greater density and mixed-use developments, possibly with affordable housing, even if it required rezoning.
“We’re taking pitches,” he said. “If people have a plan, they should bring it to the city.”
Related: In his column, our editor this month offers ideas for affordable housing in Harrisburg, and, in it, he even mentions the S&A lots as an area begging for redevelopment.