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Residential Resurrection


You know that cruddy, old office building where you got your first job? It might just be the latest thing in stylish downtown living.


BY LAWRANCE BINDA


Rooftop view of downtown Harrisburg from LUX. I


n June, Jennifer Lazarski moved into a one- bedroom apartment in downtown Harrisburg. Normally, this would hardly be a remarkable event, as downtown has a number of apartment


buildings, large and small, and people come and go all the time. Lazarski, though, was a pioneer of sorts. She became


one of the first tenants at 130 Locust St., a high-end, office-to-residential conversion that suddenly has become the next big thing in downtown living. “I wanted to be downtown,” said the 28-year-old


Lazarski, a nurse at Harrisburg Hospital. “Now, I can walk to work and to restaurants or to have a drink with friends.” Lazarski was living in Hershey, but found the


commute “frustrating,” she said. So, she began searching Harrisburg for a new home, only to be disappointed by housing that was not up to her standards. Finally, she learned about 130 Locust, a time-worn office building that was being re-developed into 14 one- and two-bedroom apartments with new floors, exposed brick, skylights, stainless steel appliances and other designer finishes. “It’s urban and has character and was all brand-new,” she said. “I felt it was perfect for a young professional who wanted something modern to live in.” As the downtown office market has cooled,


developers have found salvation for Harrisburg’s vintage properties in an unlikely place: upscale residential. Turns out that professionals like Lazarski don’t mind paying a bit more in rent for a nice apartment in a boutique building near restaurants, nightlife and, often, work.


16 | THE BURG | 08.14 “Tey want aspirational space,” said David Butcher,


president of WCI Partners, which re-developed the building. “Tis type of city living is resonating with their aspirations, with their artistic, financial, political aspirations.”


NEW ERA


You can break down the history of downtown housing in Harrisburg into three rough phases. Te first spanned the initial settlement of the city, from the colonial to the Victorian periods. Much of that stock has been lost to the wrecking ball, though a few charming pockets remain. Te second phase came with the advent of high-


rise living in the 1960s and ‘70s. Tat era gave us such modernist buildings as Executive House, Pennsylvania Place and Presbyterian Apartments. Te current phase is apart from both those


periods in design and living. It involves renovating and repurposing Harrisburg’s old, often-rundown (sometimes empty) office stock into small, boutique apartment buildings, with rents usually around $1,000 a month for a medium-sized, one- bedroom unit. WCI stuck its toe into this market last year with a high-end renovation of two units above Little Amps Coffee Roasters at N. 2nd and State streets. After those apartments leased quickly, the company began scouring downtown for more opportunities, said Butcher. Tat search led to the purchase of 130 Locust St., which, within weeks of completion, was almost completely leased. Te company next acquired 210 Walnut St., the long-time home of the Keefer,


Wood, Allen & Rahal law firm. WCI now is converting that four-story structure at the corner of Walnut and Court streets into a 21-unit apartment building, expected to deliver next April. And it isn’t just WCI. Across the street from the state Capitol, Brickbox Enterprises just finished its conversion of the former Barto office building to the LUX, a 42-unit planned community whose first occupants moved in last month. In recent years, Brickbox also re-developed several old, dilapidated office buildings into housing for Harrisburg University students. Nearby, Vartan Group is finishing up work on a six- unit conversion of the long-vacant Carson Coover House at 223 Pine St. Down on Front Street, Vartan just bought the historic, circa-1863 John Hanna Briggs Mansion, the long-time headquarters of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania. Tat 5,500-square-foot building is slated to become seven luxury riverfront apartments. Even the 1960s-era Executive House has jumped


on the trend, last year converting three entire floors from offices to upscale apartments. “Tere’s so much vacant office space in the city of Harrisburg,” said Derek Dilks, vice president of property development for Brickbox. “If people are willing to live in these cool spaces, why not adapt them?” Tis type of living has strong appeal to younger people,


said Dilks. But it also attracts single


professionals of all ages; married couples, mostly without children; and empty-nesters who want to live in a walkable community, he said. “People want the amenities,” he said. “Tey want to


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