Harrisburg looks to re-develop area near Amtrak station

HARRISBURG, Pa. - On the other side of the tracks in the capital lies an area from another time: abandoned buildings, boarded-up windows, remnants of industry long gone.

But community members and officials are working together to generate a vision to bridge the gap across the tracks from the developed downtown core of the city to a site planners say is ripe for re-development, kicking off a visioning week Monday night to discuss how to re-develop the site.

"We can help bring that activity over the tracks and help that area as well," Angela Watson, with PennDOT, said.

PennDOT and city officials are leading an effort to re-develop the area bound by the train tracks, Cameron Street, and the bridges on Mulberry and State streets.

The city wants to stop the notion that the train tracks are boundary line between different parts of town, so it needs fluid integration of the re-development site into the city and the downtown area.

"The amazing downtown is a very walkable downtown that we want to try to connect to this area," Susan Harden, a project consultant leading the discussion Monday night, said. "We don't want to create two distinct developments. We want them to be seamless and brought together."

Another goal set forth is to boost ridership along Amtrak's Keystone line and make Harrisburg a greater tourist draw.

"Our hope is through this process of public engagement is to identify what the community needs and is looking for that we could actually bring to the area to help the economy," Watson said.

Ultimately, the goal from many in attendance is the make the area as attractive as possible to potential businesses and new residents.

"It's vibrant, and it's lively, and it's attractive and appealing and people want to go there," Harden said. "So it's not enough just to have the right business mix; it also has to really have a strong sense of place and a strong identity to really draw people in."

Discussion events continue until Thursday, and the working group hopes to have a plan in place ready to be implemented by the end of the year.

A separate study led by PennDOT and Amtrak is looking into improvements for the train station itself, that would potentially cost around $12 million, Watson said.