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Do commercial, retail and housing projects mean a renaissance for Steelton?

By Dan Miller danmiller@pressandjournal.com
Posted 7/11/17

STEELTON — After years of being seemingly passed over when it comes to economic activity, Steelton all of a sudden is where it’s at.

The borough has landed the only medical marijuana …

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Do commercial, retail and housing projects mean a renaissance for Steelton?

Posted

STEELTON — After years of being seemingly passed over when it comes to economic activity, Steelton all of a sudden is where it’s at.

The borough has landed the only medical marijuana dispensary to be approved so far in Dauphin County, and one of just four that will serve all of south central Pennsylvania.

A new skateboard park is being built and set to open by the end of summer.

A Philadelphia developer has chosen downtown Steelton to locate a 125,000-square foot mixed use complex called Renaissance Row, which will combine commercial office space, retail and apartments.

On top of all this, the first new residential housing development to be built in Steelton in years is planned for the 100 block of Adams Street.

But none of this is happening by accident, and none of it took place overnight, Steelton and county officials said during a media event held on Front Street on Thursday, July 6, to draw attention to the unfolding developments.

The catalyst is a broad-based program of tax relief that removes the “disincentive” that was in place standing in the way of anyone wanting to build on or improve property anywhere in Steelton, said county Commissioner George Hartwick, a former Steelton mayor.

The entire town is part of a Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance, or LERTA, zone that provides property tax breaks of up to 10 years.

In Steelton’s commercial C-1 zoning district, which includes the proposed Renaissance Row mixed-use complex and the new housing on Adams Street, owners pay no added tax on improvements to their property over a 10-year period.

In the rest of the borough, including the East End, residential and all other types of property owners get the same tax break for five years.

In years six through 10, the tax break is reduced by a fixed percentage each year until year 10, when the improvements are taxed at the full rate.

In either case, property owners keep paying the full rate of tax on the property before it is improved, so in that respect the borough, Steelton-Highspire School District, and the county aren't losing any of the tax revenue they are already receiving.

The tax break program is “a game changer” for the borough, said Steelton Mayor Maria Romano Marcinko, adding that the benefits afforded to property owners in the commercial zone are the maximum allowed by state law.

“These incentives will bring businesses back to Steelton and address residential blight,” Marcinko said. “As the flags that now line Front Street say, our renaissance starts now.”

The backdrop for the event was the vacant lot along Front Street across from borough hall where developer John A. Henry Jr. of Chariot Companies plans to build Renaissance Row.

The vacant lot is assessed for tax purposes at $35,000, and will remain assessed at $35,000 for the next 10 years, “regardless of those improvements” that will transform the property, Hartwick said.

Underscoring how long it has taken for the borough to get to this point, Hartwick said the borough “years ago” started acquiring the property for what is to become Renaissance Row.

Acquiring the land for what will become the new housing on Adams Street began back in the late 1990s when he was mayor of Steelton, Hartwick noted.

“Not until now have we been able to move forward and see the redevelopment occur.”

It also isn’t all due to the tax break program, Hartwick added. For example, funding for the Adams Street town homes is “a very complicated mix” of federal and state sources and county gaming grants, all intended to make the homes “affordable” for families.

The 12 town homes will be priced in the mid-$90,000s and made available on a lease-to-own basis, said Gary Lenker, executive director of the Tri-County Housing Development Corp.

Plans for the housing development are now before the borough, and “we’re hopeful to see shovels in the ground by the end of this year or by spring 2018 at the latest,” said Steelton Borough Manager Doug Brown.

The borough is optimistic that plan approvals for Renaissance Row can be in place in time to break ground by spring 2018, Brown said, adding “there will be more” developments to come.

Henry referred to having a track record in the midstate, having developed the Carlisle Crossing shopping center in South Middletown Township.

But the 10-year tax abatement is “huge” in deciding to build Renaissance Row in Steelton, said Henry, chairman and CEO of Chariot Companies.

“That’s something that will incentivize (new businesses) to come in here and be that spark that this community needs,” Henry said.

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