Report: Harrisburg's federal courthouse on priority list - abc27 WHTM

Report: Harrisburg's federal courthouse on priority list

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Did Harrisburg make the cut? A government agency released a new report with recommendations to Congress on building federal courthouses nationwide.

Waiting is often lonely and even frustrating, especially waiting on Congress. So it's no wonder it's been nine years since Congress granted $26 million to buy a location for a new federal courthouse, yet the lot on 6th and Reily remains empty.

A giant billboard promising progress on the courthouse was erected in 2010. Yes, it is still there. Yes, people drive by every day and wonder, what's the deal?

Recently the Government Accountability Office reviewed 15 federal courthouse projects, each waiting for the green light to begin building. Revaluations among four courthouses dropped each to the bottom of the list. Harrisburg made the cut. However, eight federal courthouses received a higher urgency rating.

While many depend on the federal courthouse for growth, perhaps none more than Ralph Vartan of the Vartan Group. He said building the courthouse would "definitely be a boost for the area, speed up the development ... the renaissance of Midtown."

The Vartan Group said they have invested millions of dollars on more than 11 acres of land around the 6th and Reily location. That includes the opening of "1500" across the street from the supposed courthouse site.

For Vartan, the courthouse is the foundation to everything else they have planned. About a block or two up, Vartan has two signs sitting on each side of the street with renderings of new office space. With plans in place, it appears Midtown is on the verge of Vartan's "renaissance."

So, why is this government report important? Money. Construction is estimated at $110 million of, yes, federal dollars.

As America continues to climb out of the recession, John Campbell views no better opportunity than now. The president of the Historic Harrisburg Association has lobbied this project to several members of Congress, including Representative Scott Perry.

"It's never going to be cheaper to do it ... so we might as well do it now," said Campbell. "We have an economy where the price of steel is relatively inexpensive."

That is his argument against critics who argue Harrisburg doesn't need a new federal courthouse. Campbell also explained the current courthouse does not meet modern safety requirements. Safety became a big issue for federal buildings after September 11.

In 2004, Congress approved $26 million for the government to purchase a site in Harrisburg. Coincidentally, heated debates ensued when local leaders discussed a location for the courthouse.

In 2010, the Midtown site of 6th and Reily was chosen.

In the past three years, Harrisburg has had well-documented financial struggles. Some have touted the federal courthouse as a "life saver" to the city's economy.

Between the Vartan Group's three projects and the federal courthouse build, studies have shown more than 1,000 temporary jobs could be brought in. About 500 jobs are expected to remain after completion.

"The synergy is here, we just need the action to happen," said Campbell.

Vartan had this plea for any member of Congress reading this article: "If anybody from Congress is [reading] and you get a chance to vote on it, please vote to move this thing along."

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