The Borough of Carlisle
Business View Magazine interviews representatives of the Borough of Carlisle, Pennsylvania as part of our focus on best practices of American towns and cities.
The Borough of Carlisle is the county seat of Cumberland County, located in the south-central part of Pennsylvania. This highly productive agricultural area of the state was originally settled and farmed by Scots-Irish immigrants, beginning in the early 1730s. It was named after the town of Carlisle in England by American pioneer, John Armstrong, Sr., a surveyor for the Penn family, and his son John Armstrong, Jr., a soldier and statesman who was a delegate to the Continental Congress, a U.S. Senator from New York, and Secretary of War. They even built its former jailhouse (which Cumberland County now uses as general government offices) to resemble The Citadel in their English sister city.
The first new college in the newly recognized United States of America, Dickinson College, was developed in Carlisle in 1773, as Carlisle Grammar School, by Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. It was chartered on September 9th, 1783, six days after the signing of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolutionary War. The Dickinson Law School, founded in 1834, is the fifth oldest law school in the country and the oldest in Pennsylvania. It merged into the Pennsylvania State University in 1997, as Penn State Dickinson School of Law. Both institutions were named for John Dickinson, a signer of the Constitution who was later the governor of Pennsylvania, and his wife Mary Norris Dickinson, who donated much of their extensive personal libraries to the new college.
A third major educational institution in Carlisle, population 19,000, is the United States Army War College, which moved to Carlisle from Washington, D.C. in 1951, and relocated to the 500-acre campus of the historic Carlisle Barracks, the nation’s second-oldest active military base. The Army War College‘s mission is to prepare officers for leadership at the highest levels. It is comprise of the Strategic Studies Institute, the Military History Institute, and the Center for Strategic Leadership, a state-of-the-art war gaming complex.
Carlisle also has a history of manufacturing: Masland Carpets was founded in 1866, Frog Switch Manufacturing, a maker of railroad components and steel parts, in 1876, and the Carlisle Tire and Rubber Company in 1917. More recently, though Carlisle has experienced a severe case of corporate flight. During the period from 2008 to 2010, three of the Borough’s largest industrial facilities left town. The International Automotive Components Group (IAC), on the former Masland site, left 152 employees jobless; Tyco, a manufacturer of electronic components and connections for the computer and communications industries, closed its doors at its plant on Hamilton Street, leaving 117 unemployed; and Carlisle Tire and Wheel (CTW) relocated its operation to Jackson, Tennessee and, in turn, left 340 employees jobless.
With the closing of the manufacturing plants, hundreds of jobs were gone, and the Carlisle community was faced with a cluster of contaminated brownfields that were impacting nearby neighborhoods and key economic assets. The three brownfields sites are the 48-acre IAC/ Masland factory, the 12-acre Carlisle Tire & Wheel property, and the 3-acre former Tyco Electronics plant. And while their closings have created short term hardship, the nearly 65 acres of vacant property left in their wake, created a substantial urban redevelopment opportunity that Carlisle’s many stakeholders, both public and private, have addressed with vision and determination, as encapsulated in the Borough’s Urban Redevelopment Plan. The URP integrates land use, transportation, and economic development planning to create a comprehensive, urban redevelopment strategy for the affected parts of the Borough.
“This whole project really started with the closure of the plants” recounts Borough Manager, Matt Candland. “They were three pretty significant employers that closed within a few years of each other, which caused a number of challenges, one of which was: what do you do with these old sites? These were sites with old industrial buildings; all three of them had levels of contamination. So, the buildings were not really suitable for adaptive reuse.” In fact, all indicators, at the time, showed that reusing the sites for industrial purposes was neither feasible nor attractive to their owners.
That set the stage for the borough’s efforts in trying to work in partnership with the property owners in developing plans to revitalize and redevelop the sites via the creation of walkable, mixed-use infill concepts, including residential, commercial, and possibly light industrial uses. “That all started in 2012,” Candland continues. “That master planning process took a couple of years to finish. By 2014, we had a plan, and there were three very cooperative property owners that wanted to work with us. The plan included demolition of buildings; it included some remediation of the properties; and it included infrastructure upgrades.”
Fortuitously, Candland reports that implementation of the URP coincided with the Borough’s intent to repair, rehabilitate, and/or replace parts of its water and sewer system that were over a hundred years old. “Over the next 15 years, we’re looking at our water and sewer rehabilitation program as upwards of $75 million, maybe even more, depending on what we’ll actually find out in the field,” he notes. “So there were opportunities with these redevelopment sites to take care of a lot of the infrastructure – storm drains, water and sewer lines – while that development was going on. There were some cost savings by virtue of addressing that, so it was good timing that these things happened at the same time.”
While the timing was fortunate, Candland gives the most credit for the URP’s progress to the high level of cooperation among its stakeholders: “One of the themes that runs throughout this project was the public/private partnerships, the cooperative relationships that we had, not only with the property owners, but also the other jurisdictions. For example, in order for us to implement Tax Increment Financing, we had to get the school board, which has taxing authority in Pennsylvania, and the county, onboard, and they were more than glad to do that. Also, the adjoining property owners were also very willing to work with us. That was one of the ways that made this whole project possible. These partnerships and cooperative relationships helped facilitate the planning and now the redevelopment that’s underway.
“Some other partners were the state and the federal government with their financing and also with their support; the state, in particular, in helping us navigate through some of these remediation efforts. Some of these sites were very complicated with some environmentally problematic issues related to them. They also provided $2 million to one of the sites for demolition and some remediation. They’ve been very important partners. The Cumberland County Economic Development folks are also helping us.
“Then, there’s all of the citizen involvement. There wasn’t any controversy during the master planning process; there were questions, there were disagreements, but through that almost two-year process, we came up with a Master Plan that was unanimously approved by our mayor and council and I wasn’t aware of any significant opposition to it. That also made it helpful for the developers to come in and get all their approvals.”
“With all of those relationships – from the federal government all the way down to local businesses – and all of those contributors, it’s really made the economics work,” Candland is quick to add. “Because, otherwise, these properties would have been completely upside-down, economically. The cost to get these things ready for redevelopment, and then the redevelopment itself, just never could have been afforded. For a small town, this has been a pretty complex project and there’s no way in the world that the Borough, itself, could ever have handled this. So, in order for us to even attempt a project like this, much less be successful, it required an awful lot of other entities.”
Candland goes on to gives a status report on the current state of site development and potential uses of each property: “The former Carlisle Tire & Wheel site is getting developed, right now. It’s probably about halfway done and the development is primarily going to be residential with a little bit of commercial. One of the priorities in the Master Plan was to have a variety of housing types – higher, middle, and lower income. So, this site has some lower income, as well as some other rental apartments, and about 20,000 square feet of commercial.
“The Tyco site, which is the smallest site, was a former electronics manufacturing plant. One of our other partners, Cumberland County, has a development arm – they call it the Real Estate Collaborative. This group has taken ownership of the Tyco site and they’ve got a wonderful mixed-use development that is planned. They’ve gotten their preliminary approvals. They’re finishing up the demolition, right now, and early next year, they’re going to start development that will include restaurants and office space. I don’t think there’s any residential on that site, because the contamination didn’t allow for it.
“The biggest site is the IAC site. That’s probably one of the trickiest ones and it’s already started developing, as well. All of the water and sewer and road networks have been installed, or are in the process of being installed. There’s a hotel that’s going to be constructed there – a Homewood Suites. That’s slated to begin construction this month or next month. We’re also working with a number of different housing developers for some apartments and townhouses. There are a few zoning changes that would need to be made and we’re working on that, now. We suspect that will all be buttoned up sometime in the next few months and they can start construction either this fall or next spring. So, that’s looking pretty good. There’s also a restaurant slated to be built there along with some offices. That would be Phase One; the second phase is across the street and could be residential, or retail, or office – they haven’t finalized that, yet.”
Candland suggests that the federal government’s Opportunity Zone program might be an excellent way to attract more investors interested in redeveloping Carlisle’s newest sites. “There are investors all around the country that have proceeds, whether it’s capital gains of one kind or another, and these Opportunity Zones give them an opportunity to invest that money, tax-free, for some period of time,” he explains. “We’re trying to attract some developers to bring some of that funding here, because I think all three of the sites are Opportunity Zone eligible. We’re in the early stages of that and that would also be a significant boost in the investment in those properties.”
Mark Malarich is Carlisle’s Director of Water Resources. He explains that in concert with the water and sewer infrastructure updates the Borough has made, and continues to make, it is also implementing the Carlisle Connectivity Project, a series of transportation upgrades designed to improve mobility around and through the brownfield sites in the northern part of Carlisle. “If you look at a map of the Borough, we’re, essentially, a grid – our streets go north, south, east, and west in a grid system,” he says. “Because of the historic factories that were there, that grid system has been disconnected. As part of the infrastructure improvements, we’ll be replacing the grid system, which, hopefully, will help with some traffic issues that we have. For example, the Borough is located along the Interstate 81 corridor, and the I-81 corridor has a lot of trucking interests that have been constructed around the Borough, so moving that freight around has been a challenge.”
“When we undertook this project, we worked closely with PennDOT,” Candland adds. “And one of the things they required of us was that we needed to conduct an impact evaluation of what these redevelopment sites would mean for PennDOT and Borough roads. So, we did that, and the result was there were a lot of improvements that needed to be made as a result of the anticipated impact. All the transportation projects that we need to do are going to begin, probably, early next year. We estimate that will be $10-15 million worth of transportation projects to include: two new roundabouts, some widening of roads, some streetscape work, property acquisition, new intersections, and dealing with Norfolk-Southern Railroad. That’s some pretty complex issues along with some actual complexity in the design and construction, itself.”
Yet another concurrent project will be the creation of the Fairgrounds Avenue Stormwater Park on a couple of acres of open space on the former IAC/Masland site, posing an immediate stormwater management benefit through impervious surface reduction. Beyond the open space benefits, the park will be designed as a fully-integrated stormwater management facility, including rain gardens, underground storage, and various bio-retention swales/micro-pools to capture and treat runoff during storm events. “The Borough does have some problems with localized flooding,” Candland notes. “Much of that has to do with the system, itself, that gets overwhelmed during certain storm events. So this gives us an opportunity to try and address stormwater on the sites, themselves, and maybe even relieve and alleviate some of the flooding conditions by taking some of the water off the sites.”
The Borough of Carlisle has succeeded in turning the proverbial lemon into lemonade with its Urban Renewal Plan. The next stage is to continue to attract more private developers, while simultaneously taking advantage of every possible state or federal program available, in order to keep the money spigot flowing. “The infrastructure is here and available for businesses to move into,” says Malarich. “We have no limitations.”
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AT A GLANCE
WHO: The Borough of Carlisle
WHAT: A borough of 19,000
WHERE: Cumberland County in south-central Pennsylvania