A Big Idea for Downtown Hershey

There was a full room at the February 21 Downtown Hershey Association (DHA) board meeting—with many community members attending to learn more about a big idea being proposed for a 4-acre plot of land along Chocolate Avenue. The Hershey Towne Square project is a mixed-use plan that would bring restaurants, retailers, public space, residential apartments and a parking deck to the heart of downtown.

Representatives from RVG Management and Development Company, the Wormleysburg-based developers on the project, provided an overview of the proposed development. Work is well underway on rebuilding the Hershey Abattoir building, which will become office space under the Hershey Towne Square plan. The new construction would run along Chocolate Avenue and around the corner of Ridge Road.

Below are some conceptual renderings of the plans:

Featuring a modern design that “pays homage to the history of Hershey,” Hershey Towne Square is an approximately $28 million project that could bring vitality to an underutilized piece of property by appealing to community members and the thousands of visitors who come here as well. Economic development is a core component of DHA’s mission, and its board of directors was asked to consider the direction of the project overall and whether it should support the developer’s request for Tax Increment Financing (TIF) on the parking deck as an appropriate public private partnership to catalyze economic development and private investment in Downtown Hershey and allow the project to move forward.

TIFs are an economic development tool that allow local tax authorities—in this case the Derry Township School District, Derry Township and Dauphin County—to invest a portion of the tax dollars generated by the higher incremental assessed value of the Downtown Hershey property back into a public improvement associated with the Hershey Towne Square project. The developers have requested a TIF that would support a $2 million financing for the $4 million parking garage. Each of the tax authorities has received the TIF request and will consider its merits. Without the TIF, RVG would not be able to develop the project at the conceived scale or density. The developers have stated that if the TIF is not approved, they will finish the existing building, search for a single office tenant, and then reassess the situation.

The DHA board believes that Hershey Towne Square aligns well with the principles behind its Downtown Hershey master plan that was developed in January 2015, Downtown Hershey: A Plan for Continued Revitalization. The plan supports expansion of the tax base, street level activity, higher density, diverse construction and architectural styles, and structured parking. The Downtown Hershey Association sees this type of development as a benefit for all downtown businesses and a catalyst for future economic development in the community. The board also agrees that the TIF is an ideal tool for allowing this site to be fully maximized and developed in a manner that is consistent with smart growth principles. The Downtown Hershey Association encourages the three taxing bodies to approve RVG’s request that will enable this project to move forward.