Potential Move to Midtown Harrisburg... (Philadelphia, Lancaster: real estate, furlow, apartments)
Harrisburg areaCumberland, Dauphin, and Perry Counties
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My fiance and I live in the Philadelphia area, and are considering a move to Harrisburg after our wedding this fall. Primarily the move is prompted by ridiculously high housing costs around Philly. We still want to stay relatively close to family (in lancaster), need some sort of walkable downtown/nightlife..but don't need it to be as big as philly.
After some research I loved a lot of the homes I'm seeing in Midtown Harrisburg. From what I've read, its a safe neighborhood, but the rest of the city is pretty bad? Most people said the city was improving, but I can't find recent comments on the state of the city now.
My questions are about daily life, schools, and community. Is Midtown (will take recommendations if you think other neighborhoods are better) a place where people take pride in their community? Are they out and about, going to local restaurants/coffee shops, etc? (ie: philly is a city, but the many of the neighborhoods are very community oriented...neighbors know each other etc...) I know schools are an issue in Harrisburg, and we do plan on having a family. Besides schools, are their young families in the area...or is it primarily just couples and single professionals? As far as schools, are their good charter/affordable private school options?
Here's an article from today's Patriot-News that might help you out a bit. I've just recently moved to Harrisburg for an internship, and so far I have mixed reviews on the area as a single person, so I might not be the best person to ask as far as things to do etc.
One thing I can say is, the people who say that Harrisburg is dangerous etc. must live pretty sheltered and fancy lives. Harrisburg certainly has a lot of room for improvement in terms of the condition of homes, etc. but they seem to have a great housing stock. Lots of brownstones and townhomes with amazing characteristics, and a lot of them are starting to be restored and rented or sold.
On the negative side, Harrisburg is facing Act 47 takeover from the state. The city is severely in debt and it shows. There's a lot of negativity about both the mayor and the city council. You can read about this if you google Act 47 Harrisburg or just keep an eye on the local paper -- it's a bit of a nightmare.
I see a lot of potential in this small city but sadly, as far as I can tell it's a long way away. Hopefully someone will correct me if I am wrong.
I agree. The downtown / midtown areas are about as safe as they come. Both require some common sense -- don't leave valuables out in plain sight overnight, don't leave your doors unlocked, that sort of thing. Midtown probably has a slightly elevated crime rate compared to downtown, but that's a purely anecdotal observation on my part.
Downtown offers more walkable nightlife than midtown. Second Street between Market and South streets is pretty much a non-stop run of lounges, bars, nightclubs, and restaurants. Think of downtown as the city's nightlife / entertainment district, and midtown as the city's arts / culture district. Both are within a ten-minute walk of the other, so either way, you're good. Downtown has an Amtrak station with multiple trips to Lancaster daily.
Midtown has some major renovation projects underway. Two old buildings (Furlow and the glass factory) are being converted into studio & one-bedroom apartments. A condo midrise was just topped off at Sixth & Reily -- not technically midtown, but it will still have an impact. The Susquehanna Art Museum is expanding an old bank near Third & Reily. And the Northern Gateway project -- which finally appears likely to happen -- will turn Seventh Street from Maclay to Reily into a major artery into the city, directing some more traffic towards midtown.
Choosing between downtown or midtown is entirely subjective. Neither is a bad choice. Personally, I prefer downtown. I like the dense living that hirises offer. I also like having Amtrak and boatloads of dining / entertainment / nightlife within a few blocks of my home.
And MatildaLoo is absolutely correct about the city's financial status. It's a very turbulent time for the city and nobody can accurately predict exactly how this will impact Harrisburg and/or Dauphin county. I strongly advise against buying real estate in the city right now, but renting is another story. It will take many years, if not a decade or more, for Harrisburg to get back on track.
I have a general idea about where midtown is (street-wise), where is "downtown" located....in regards for looking at homes? Coming from Philly, I am not too concerned with the "crime" within these areas. I just saw a lot of posts that implied that Harrisburg had certain sq block radius that was okay downtown, but the rest of the city was a nightmare. Good to hear that its a good place to live!
Regarding concerns about renting vs. buying. I've looked around midtown for both, and it seems the costs would be the same when it comes to mortgages vs rental. While Harrisburg's financial issues are certainly a consideration (and maybe we'll know more what that means in the next 6-8 months when we're looking to move), what would make renting better than home ownership when rents (for 3-4 bedroom homes) are higher than the mortgage would be on such low home prices?
The city is divided up into a few dozen "proper" neighborhoods, but most of us locals never use them. I've never heard anyone say they live in the "northern gateway commerce district"; they just live uptown. So the locations I'm giving here aren't exact, but rather reflect the general area that most of us mean when we say "midtown" or "downtown.
Downtown is pretty much everything west of Cameron St and east of the river, south of Forster Street and north of Paxton Street. Midtown lies north of Forster Street. I'd say it's east of the river and west of Fourth Street, up to about Reily St. I also know some people who militantly define midtown strictly as the area from Front & Maclay to Third & Verbeke. And I know folks who copy this definition, but add a lot of exceptions for places like the Broad St Market and Garrason's Tavern.
There are hardline definitions of the neighborhood, but most of us don't care. The guy at the bar at HMAC arguing that The Grayco isn't really downtown because it's technically a part of the Capitol District desperately needs less free time and more friends.
In regards to renting vs buying, the difference is primarily over the risk related to both. Understand that Harrisburg is in a major financial mess right now. Nobody is sure exactly how the fallout from this will impact city or regional residents. Some of the ideas floated include skyrocketing taxes and slashing fire / police / maintenance funding. Since nobody knows what will happen, the risk is difficult to quantify or qualify. If you rent and the city completely falls apart, you move. At worst you're out the cost of your security deposit. If you own a home and the city completely falls apart, you either sell at a substantial loss or stick it out for the next few years / decades.
The decision is simply a liability shield. You're trading the potential equity from a mortgage for the security of a rental.
thanks for your insight...its a tough call, but i can see where renting is a safer bet for a couple years...At least until we're more confident in the path the city is taking. We're planning on coming out in 2-3 weeks to see the city, potential housing neighborhoods midtown/downtown etc. We just want to get a feel for the city, and see if it actually is like we think it is. Anything you think we should check out while we're there---less "tourist-y, bring friends and family when they come to town" more along what we might like if we were living there?
For example: We know about the farmer's market, and the book store...what about great coffee shops, or great neighborhood restaurants--local bars that aren't crazy, just where people go to hang out? any parks (besides riverside)? Anything else that might sway our opinion in one way or the other about moving there?
thanks for your insight...its a tough call, but i can see where renting is a safer bet for a couple years
Glad to help!
Originally Posted by jmgillard
We just want to get a feel for the city, and see if it actually is like we think it is. Anything you think we should check out while we're there---less "tourist-y, bring friends and family when they come to town" more along what we might like if we were living there?
This all depends on your tastes, of course, but if you're coming out over the weekend, I would definitely plan on spending some time on Friday or Saturday night sampling the local nightlife. Some of the more popular downtown places are:
Ceoltas (Irish Pub; not sure when their third-floor open-air deck closes for the season)
McGrath's (another, slightly more grown-up Irish Pub)
Privado or Level 2 (both upscale martini lounges; dress code enforced)
Zembie's (often-overlooked small sports bar with very, very good food)
Spice (not my style, but a hugely popular bar w/ dance floor)
Brick Haus (lightly-German-themed bar)
Hardware Bar or Sawyer's / Blue Heaven (collegiate-style party bars)
Suba (above Manga Qui near Third & North) is also worth a look if your wallet can take the hit. It's a very intimate lounge, seats no more than 20 or 30, with outstanding mixed drinks and tapas. Be prepared to blow through $50 without even trying. Most of the downtown bars are located along or immediately off Second Street. In midtown, take a look at Garrason's Tavern (very popular no-frills bar), Harrisburg Midtown Arts Center (bar with artsy events), or Shady McGrady's (no-frills bar with something like four dozen micros on tap and half-off happy hours). Appalachian Brewing Company is also very good -- they bring in outstanding indie acts on the upper level. Sometimes there's a cover.
The best coffee in the region is at St. Thomas Roasters in Linglestown. They roast daily in-store and keep a diverse assortment of beans on hand. Most of what they sell is a day or two old, and never more than two weeks. In the city limits, Cafe De Luna (Third St near Boas) has the best coffee hands-down. They don't roast, but the owner is extremely choosy about what beans she carries. A new roaster, Little Amps, just opened near Muench & Green, but I haven't sampled them yet.
Arguably one of the most popular local spots for cheap eats is the Colonial Park Diner. It's an unsinkable diner with particularly good food quality, fast service, and decent prices. Dodge City (on Paxton near Cameron) is my favorite local steakhouse. For better or for worse, it actually was the season two premiere of Restaurant Impossible. Get a slice or two at Mercado's (Third & Boas, watch out for the pothole) or Palumbo's (Second near Walnut). Grab a burger from Jackson House (Sixth & Boas, only open M-F 11 - 1). Tres Hermanos (Cameron St, just south of Paxton) has the best Mexican food in town (I prefer their steak or beef entrees; I think they try to make their chicken Italian and it just doesn't work for me).
Harrisburg doesn't have much of a park system. During the City Beautiful movement of the early 20th century, we bet the farm on Riverfront Park. Don't get me wrong -- Riverfront is a beautiful, very well-done park. But because of this, the remaining city parks are mostly vacant lots with a few trees thrown in. Italian Lake Park is nice, though it always felt better suited towards strolls with your loved one and less towards jogging or throwing the ball around. City Island, our "newest" and most-developed park, has a range of activities running the gamut from baseball games to kiddie train rides.
There's also a lot to do on the west shore (of the river), but I don't get over there nearly enough to make any intelligent recommendations. You should probably be aware of the ridiculous east-shore / west-shore rivalry we have around here. It is stupid and based largely on racial & ethnic stereotypes, but you will hear people on both sides of the river speak in actual hushed tones about the other. I really wish I was exaggerating.
I'd suggest hitting Shady's or Appalachian Brewing Company, having a brew or three, and asking the waitress / your neighbors what there is to do around here. Most of the midtowners are very friendly and very proud of the way that part of the city has developed over the past decade, and will be thrilled to share their city with a newcomer. Also take a look at Out With Sara and The Burg News, local websites that do a pretty good job covering the region's goings-on:
I think your largest difference from philly to harrisburg will be culture and cultural activities or cultural diversity.
Harrisburg does not have much. If you are into that, be prepared for a lot less. IMO the city of Harrisburg is overpriced for what you get culturally and etc and I prefer the city of Lancaster (though I do not honestly consider either one a city--they are more like large towns--IMO if it does not have subway and skyscrapers, and a myriad of taxis, it is not a city). Lancaster has a bit more culture--in the city proper--and more interesting little shops. I would not want to live in Lancaster County though.
The bars mentioned were nice. I would recommend Molly Flannigans as well.
The bars mentioned were nice. I would recommend Molly Flannigans as well.
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