Harrisburg Should Support the KOZ Proposal
Opportunities for investment, restoration, job creation, and hope.
The recent article “The City of Harrisburg Considers a KOZ Proposal” highlighted a tremendous opportunity that is currently before us in the proposed Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) for Harrisburg.
As a resident and homeowner in South Allison Hill, five of the buildings and lots designated in the KOZ proposal are just a few blocks from my front door. Along the 17th Street industrial corridor, there are the old Coca-Cola and Hajoca buildings as well as two vacant lots in the vicinity.
Once the hub of a thriving industrial center on South Allison Hill, these buildings have stood vacant for decades. It always saddens me to walk past these abandoned buildings knowing they reflect the shadow of a former era of prosperity for our neighborhood.
Incentives for investment through the KOZ could bring in other healthcare-related businesses or suppliers, which would support the needs of the health center while also creating jobs in the community. Shipping and warehousing also hold significant potential. With the industrial design of the Coca-Cola and Hajoca buildings, a functional rail spur and easy access to Route 83, this would build upon the community’s existing assets and also create jobs.
South Allison Hill used to be a neighborhood that offered a mix of industrial, residential and commercial. As a result, people could work, live and play all in the same community. Today that is not the case since most people have to find transportation downtown or into the suburbs for work. Most notably in this part of the city, rates of unemployment or underemployment remain high. Our available, local workforce would be a draw for investors. Such creation of jobs would be a huge boost for our local economy.
In a broader sense, restoring these properties would be an important step in restoring our neighborhood to the potential it truly has.
In addition to the industrial corridor, the fifth potential KOZ property in South Allison Hill is Shimmel School, which was closed two years ago. Sadly, the property is now attracting criminal activities with kids destroying the basketball hoops and a woman recently being shot there. If we act now, an investor could retrofit this for an apartment building or some other positive purpose. Allowing it to sit there and fall into extreme disrepair would make it more problematic for the neighborhood and more costly to redevelop down the road.
People have asked what the cost of the KOZ would be and whether a time of fiscal crisis is the right time to take this step.
These are prudent questions since tax incentives are part of the KOZ package. However, built into the arrangement is a requirement for “payments in lieu of taxes” (PILOTS) at the rate of 110% of the current property tax value, so money would still be flowing to the City for essential services.
In the case of Shimmel, currently the school district is obligated for the costs of maintaining the property and because of its non-profit status, it has never generated property taxes, so there is really nothing to lose.
The KOZ is not just good news for South Allison Hill, though. It is good news for the entire City of Harrisburg. Other properties on the list—several along Cameron Street, as well as Bishop McDevitt, Hamilton and William Penn—all hold great potential for redevelopment and could bring reinvestment into the city.
Even more than the physical investment that would be gained, the KOZ would bring something intangible but so crucial for our city. Hope.
With morale downtrodden by endless talk of debt, bankruptcy and budget cuts, how refreshing would it be for people all across the city to see businesses with renewed interest in investing in our neighborhoods and making it a better place for all of us? We have a chance here to truly renew our city, not only improving its physical structures, but restoring people’s belief that good things can still happen in Harrisburg.
That chance expires on October 1st—the deadline for submission to the state Department of Community & Economic Development (DCED).
City Council is the final entity needed to support the KOZ proposal. The Community & Economic Development Committee will be discussing it Thursday, September 5th at 5:15pm. It is anticipated to be up for vote before the full Council in a special session on Monday, September 16th.
We must urge City Council that this is the right time and it is the right step for Harrisburg.
Harrisburg City Council is scheduled to vote on this resolution on Monday, September 16th in a Special Legislative Session beginning at 6:00pm. See the Agenda here.
photo from Harrisburg Redevelopment Authority, seen here