Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

So Much in SoMa: Downtown district prepares for its close-up.

The heart of SoMa: S. 3rd Street between Market and Chestnut streets

What’s SoMa?

Even long-time residents may not know that SoMa stands for “South of Market,” a longstanding attempt to add some urban cool to a few square blocks of downtown Harrisburg.

Harristown Enterprises, which owns much of the area, is trying to add new energy to the decade-old branding and marketing effort. At the same time, it wants the public to see how far the once-blighted neighborhood has come.

“A lot has happened over the years,” said Brad Jones, Harristown president and CEO. “We want to show that off.”

To that end, the company recently installed new decorative banners, is stringing up lights across S. 3rd Street and is throwing a big block party on Thursday night with music, food and drink. It’s a debut of sorts for an area with several newly renovated apartment buildings, offices, retail spaces and restaurants.

About 20 years ago, an Urban Land Institute study recommended focusing on these blocks as a special district for revitalization, as it was one of the few downtown areas that retained its historic character of small, attached commercial buildings.

In the early 2000s, that effort began in earnest with the creation of International House and Bricco restaurant. That was followed by Messiah College’s Harrisburg Institute, the renovation of several buildings into student housing for Harrisburg University, the repurposing of a few old buildings into high-end apartments and the construction of the Blackberry Technology Center from a long-empty, dilapidated former hardware store, among other projects.

Jones estimates that, over the years, about $20 million has been invested in the area that runs from Market to Chestnut streets between S. 2nd and S. 4th streets.

More projects are planned. For instance, Harristown has contracted with Harrisburg-based K&W Engineering to develop a comprehensive streetscape design that likely will include elements like new street furniture, greenery and stamped concrete accents.

Going forward, Jones said he’d like to see more boutique-style retail in the area, which would fit in well with the area’s restored brick rowhouses and small commercial buildings.

“It’s always had all the elements of a really neat neighborhood,” he said. “It just needed things to be filled in.”

The Night Light Pop Up Party, produced by Harristown Enterprises and, takes place 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 31, on S. 3rd Street between Market and Chestnut streets.

Author: Lawrance Binda

Continue Reading