Commissioners announce agreement with state to obtain 300-acre State Hospital grounds and highlight other economic development and quality of life initiatives at annual State of the County address
HARRISBURG, PA (April 18, 2019) – With easy highway access across from the PA Farm Show Complex, the 300-acre State Hospital grounds along Cameron Street and Elmerton Avenue is set to be the next hot development site – and provide a direct benefit to taxpayers.
The Dauphin County Redevelopment Authority and the state have entered into an agreement of sale that allows the authority to market the property for no money up-front and then split the proceeds with the state, Dauphin County Commissioner and Chairman of the Board Jeff Haste announced at tonight’s State of The County event at the Harrisburg Hilton. Closing on the agreement, which must be signed by Governor Tom Wolf, will occur in about a month.
“This is a win for our entire region,’’ Haste said. “In addition to getting this land back on the property tax rolls, the potential for a mix of uses that will create jobs and spur further growth in that section of the city.’’
The news comes as the county enters an unprecedented 14 years of no property tax increases and has seen its economic development programs play a role in two other significant mix-use developments – The Steel Works in downtown Steelton and Susquehanna Union Green in Susquehanna Township.
In developing the State Hospital grounds, Haste said the county would work with the city and Susquehanna Township, where most of the land is located. Any construction is at least a year away because under the sales agreement, the state must subdivide the property and separate the utilities.
The site has several buildings on the historic register that cannot be demolished, and Haste said there’s already been some interest in potentially renovating one as a boutique hotel.
During the State of the County event, the commissioners also highlighted work done to expand parks and open space and as well as focusing on programs to combat the opioid epidemic and ensure young children have a healthy start.
Commissioner Mike Pries said holding the line on taxes while continuing to deliver needed services is a true team effort on the part of fellow commissioners Haste and George P. Hartwick, III, as well as the county judges and elected row offices.
“In addition to holding the line on taxes, the county is on course to be debt-free by 2024,’’ Pries said. “All this is only possible because the three of us are committed to working together for our residents and leaving politics at the door.’’
Hartwick said the county is also moving forward on three important Human Services initiatives: ensuring youth have access to early learning opportunities, so they are prepared for kindergarten and beyond; expanding treatment to combat the opioid epidemic; and working to reduce the numbers of mentally ill in prison.
“We are helping the thousands of small children in Dauphin County affected by trauma, poverty, and abuse before it is too late, Hartwick said. “We’re also addressing the opioid epidemic by getting people directly into treatment with our ‘warm handoff’ approach, training certified family recovery specialists and conducting prevention efforts in schools. As Frederick Douglass said, ‘It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.’”
Highlights from the State of the County address:
Municipal Bridge Program
Recently, the county approved agreements with Conewago, East Hanover, Jackson, Londonderry, Lower Paxton townships and Lykens Borough to replace deteriorating bridges.
The county was first in the state to create its Municipal Bridge Program, which underwrites 60 percent of the cost. Municipalities can receive ultra-low interest loans from the county’s Infrastructure Bank, another first that marked a partnership with the state to fund transportation-related projects.
“Earlier this month, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association reported Pennsylvania ranked fifth with the highest percentage of deficient bridges,’’ Haste said. “I’m proud to say that in Dauphin County, we are making sure our county and municipal bridges are safe and in good repair.’’
Dauphin County Infrastructure Bank
In addition to providing loans to municipalities for the bridge program and to fix dangerous intersections and roads, the DCIB played an instrumental part in the planned Susquehanna Union Green Project in Susquehanna Township. The project features 26 commercial and retail buildings and a 110-room hotel, senior living community and more. Developer Ralph Vartan said getting the $5.3 million in financing for improvements Linglestown and surrounding roads was key, and it marks the first time a developer is using the bank.
Dauphin County Transformation Initiative & Gaming Grant Program plays critical role in Steelton’s redevelopment
Dauphin County was only one of four communities in the state to receive a $400,000 EPA grant to do environmental assessments on vacant commercial and industrial sites that are needed before redevelopment can occur. The grant paid for the studies required to pave the way for The Steel Works in Steelton, mixed-use development on six downtown borough blocks that will feature a grocery, brewpub, and more than 100 apartments.
Gaming Grant Program
Additionally, since 2011, the county used more than $450,000 in gaming grantsfrom revenue generated from the Hollywood Casino on streetscape projects in the area, helping pave the way for The Steel Works.
Gaming dollars have helped townships and boroughs fix sewer and water systems, buy equipment for police and firefighters and pay for a host of other needs that either would have gone unmet or spurred local tax increases. Since the program started, we’ve awarded more than $75 million in grants that have encouraged almost $400 million in additional investment – and created or retained more than 12,000 permanent or construction jobs.
Dauphin County Land Bank
Established in 2013 – the same year as the Infrastructure Bank and another first in Pennsylvania, the Land Bank helps our communities fight blight by buying rehabbing or demolishing vacant, crumbling residential and commercial structures.
Among its successful projects are the construction of five townhomes on Tuscarora Street in Susquehanna Township and demolition of the Reamer & Tool Co. in Millersburg to clear way for redevelopment. This spring, the bank in partnership with Habitat for Humanity will redevelop two row homes in Steelton.
The commissioners will soon be appointing a citizen’s advisory group to help plan the future of Detweiler Park in Middle Paxton Township. At 411-acres, it’s the largest of our eight parks and visited by about 1,500 people every month. Public meetings to hear what people want to see will be held this year. Residents can also give input online and find out about upcoming park events at www.DetweilerPark.org
Historic expansion of the Capital Area Greenbelt
Work recently started on the 30-year dream of linking Fort Hunter in Susquehanna Township to the 20-mile trail, which currently ends at his northernmost end at Wildwood Park. The extension will allow the thousands of residents who use the trail and attend Fort Hunter events to enjoy themselves without having to drive. The $7.5 million project also includes safety upgrades to six intersections along the belt, most of which are complete.
Since 1992, when Dauphin County began purchasing easements, the county has preserved a total of 16,863 acres on more than 170 farms.
Giving every child a healthy start
Dauphin was one of only eight counties – and the only one in Pennsylvania – to receive a $25,000 grant from the Pritzker Children’s Initiative to begin addressing early childhood issues. The county is working with early child care providers, parents, schools and other stakeholders to provide training positive behavior strategies and offer additional resources that help address the conduct that may otherwise lead to suspensions and expulsions.
Not only are children denied access to early education programs less likely to succeed in kindergarten, but studies have also shown they experience more problems throughout their school years and beyond. By the end of 2019, the county has a goal of reaching 468 at-risk infants and toddlers; with that number increasing to 2,342 children by December 2023.