With The Steel Works groundbreaking, work starts to transform downtown Steelton

STEELTON, PA (October 7, 2020) For Jonathan Bowser, who joined the Dauphin County Commissioners and Steelton officials to break ground on the long-awaited Steel Works development, it felt a bit like coming home.

“It means a lot to me to help restore the town where I grew up and my family has lived for more than a century,’’ said Bowser, Managing Partner of Integrated Development Partners, LLC (IDP) of Camp Hill. “It is personally gratifying to work on a project I believe will start to revitalize the borough and be a catalyst for additional development.’’

Covering six blocks of former steel mill land spanning 102 – 230 North Front Street, The Steel Works will include a Dollar General (now under construction); Senior Life health care center; 41 apartments; a park and amphitheater; and office and retail space.

“The Steel Works shows how we all benefit when the public and private sector work together,’’ said county board Chairman Jeff Haste. “Today, we’re celebrating the transformation of six acres of vacant steel mill land, which is a perfect example of this board’s commitment to fighting blight and revitalizing our communities.’’

Steelton Council President Brian Proctor said the Steel Works is the first significant development to occur in the borough in 20 years that he expects it will bring jobs and further growth. The new apartments will attract both millennials looking to be close to Harrisburg as well as students going to Penn State Harrisburg, accessible along a bus route.

“The county has always supported Steelton, and we’re happy to have a board that sees our potential,’’ Proctor said. “Our residents have been looking for something to go in that location, and they are excited.’’

The Dollar General is expected to open this year and Senior Life next year. Final construction of the retail and office space and apartments will likely extend into 2022, Bowser said.

“A few years ago, we unveiled our Transformation Initiative to help redevelop former industrial sites, and today we get to celebrate our latest success,’’ said Commissioner Mike Pries. “Looking at the plans for the project, I can envision the jobs this will create and the incredible impact it will have on Steelton.”

Bowser’s IDP purchased the land in 2018 for $375,000 from the Steelton Economic Development Corporation, which selected the firm after asking interested developers to submit plans. The Dauphin County Redevelopment Authority worked with Steelton in preparing the request for proposals that led to IDP’s selection. 

“It’s exhilarating to see another Steelton native give back to the borough,’’ said Commissioner George P. Hartwick, III. “Years ago, when I served as mayor, The Steel Works is the kind of project we always hoped would become a reality and lead the borough to a new and bright future.’’

IDP will benefit from a tax abatement zone approved in 2017 by the county, Steelton and the Steelton-Highspire School District. New construction will receive a 10-year, 100 percent tax abatement, meaning developers only pay property taxes at the pre-improvement rate.

Additionally, under the commissioners’ Transformation Initiative to redevelop former industrial and commercial sites, the county used $230,000 of a $400,000 federal Environmental Protection Agency grant to conduct environmental assessments of the site needed before construction. Since 2011, the county also used more than $500,000 in gaming grants and federal block grants for Front Street improvements, including new sidewalks and pedestrian crossing areas.

More recently, the project also received a $112,000 state grant to help build the planned park and amphitheater, named “Brickyard’’ in recognition of what workers used to call the old steel mill.

“The kind of local support we received is critical for a development like this, and their backing gave us and the project a lot of validity,’’ said Bowser, the former CEO of the Cumberland Area Economic Development Corporation.

Developers typically get financing by showing the value of existing new construction. But in Steelton and other former factory towns that isn’t possible, which is why public sector assistance is critical, Bower said.

“This is what economic development is about,’’ he said. “Giving people a reason to come to the borough and enticing them to stay.’’

Future developers will also be able to take advantage of the tax incentives enjoyed by The Steel Works as part of the borough-wide Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance (LERTA) Program enacted in 2017.

As with The Steel Works, new construction and improvements done in the downtown commercial district along Front Street, between Conestoga Street to Strawberry Alley are eligible for 10 years of property tax relief.

That downtown zone also encompasses the 100 block of Adams Street to cover the Adams Street Townhouse Project. Developed by the Tri-County Housing Development Authority, plans call for 12, three-bedroom townhomes selling at below-market rates to qualifying buyers.

New construction or renovation done outside the downtown zone is eligible for reduced property taxes over nine years. Under the plan, property outside the commercial zone can receive 100 percent abatement for the first five years, 80 percent in year six; 60 percent in year 7; 40 percent in year 8; and a 20 percent break in year nine before paying the full amount on improved properties in year 10.