Over the last few years, land and home prices in East Hanover Township have skyrocketed — especially parcels around the casino. I distinctly remember seeing the small, barren lot that I considered buying back in 2004 for $10k sell at auction for well over $200k last summer. Not only that, but area businesses are either rebuilding or being demolished to make way for something bigger. What was once pretty much the middle of nowhere has now become the potential to completely rebuild the area.
Consider Route 743. Locally, it’s now anchored by Giant Arena & HersheyPark at the southern end and Hollywood Casino at the northern. Traffic has multiplied by a factor I don’t even want to think about. Within the last six months, there have been two new (and fairly decent) Italian restaurants and a Mainstay Suites either opened or being built. 50% of the local gas stations (that is to say “one”) have torn down and rebuilt. There’s a Sheetz coming to that triangle of land on your left as you approach the casino. The deserted parcel of land that’s hosted nothing more than a “Coming Soon – Bow Creek Mall” sign since 1992 has fueled rampant speculation about class-A commercial development. So has the farmland surrounding the casino itself.
If you believe the locals (and I like to, because it’s simply more fun than allowing logic and reason to rule the day), the commercial re-zoning that’s been going on along 743 between I-81 and the mountain signals the start of major commercialization. While I’m skeptical that we’ll see a Target or Best Buy (for a few years, anyway), consider what happened along Route 39 between Hershey and Route 22 over the last two years. Vacant farmland, not quite convenient to anything, sprouted several MAJOR condo / townhouse developments, a new and thriving commercial plaza anchored by local commercial hero Giant, an “upscale” apartment complex, and more than one high-end ($200k+) standalone housing development.
Consider Mechanicsburg. That barren stretch of the Carlisle Pike? I don’t need to describe how well that’s doing. Between Wegman’s and Target and Chick-Fil-A (did that place open yet?) and Panara and Best Buy and whatever else is in there, it went from ugly to prime class-A retail seemingly overnight.
Consider what Mohegan Sun did for the Scranton / Wilkes-Barre area. I grew up next door to that area, and it’s been economically depressed for as long as I’ve know what “economically depressed” meant. Various “salvation” projects, development initiatives, and other “we’ll save the city!” ventures have come and gone on a regular basis, but none of them have stuck. Their casino came in at just the right moment, helping to put some serious muscle behind a commercial boom. An area that spent most of the 80s and 90s struggling with crime, unemployment, and general undesirability has now nearly come full-circle to their prior Pocono-era glory.
So what’s to say East Hanover can’t become the next Lower Paxton? Nothing, really. Being 7 minutes from the northernmost Harrisburg exit on I-81 means it takes less time to drive to Hollywood Casino than it does to, say, navigate Jonestown Road (or the Carlisle Pike) on the weekend. There are, however, some infrastructure problems in the area, and that’s where the township needs to tread with great care.
As the only major road leading to Hollywood Casino from 81, 743 is in need of being rebuilt. That need is only going to grow as commercial development picks up. Fortunately, bridges aside, it has the shoulder space to grow with minimal interruption. The township sewage plant is in pretty bad shape (if I recall correctly, Penn National offered to build a brand new one for the township, an offer which the township not only refused, but went so far as to sue (and ultimately lose, at the taxpayers’ expense) to force Penn National to use the township’s plant instead). From the days when no one expected this area to amount to anything, high tension wires are strung all over the place, making it hard to develop on the southern side of I-81. Perhaps most damning is the fact that East Hanover simply doesn’t have the tax revenue to do much of anything, so they can’t prepare the area for improved development. This would be a good time for the township to start thinking of some sort of tax-friendly incentive to draw development to the area. Waive all permit fees? Five-year ramped tax abatement? State or federal grants?
There’s no good reason why the area won’t take off. I don’t think anyone really expects it NOT to. The question is when.