Carlisle has just what national retailers are seeking and, with the right development, the borough could become a destination spot for tourists.
That was the message pitched during a redevelopment workshop Wednesday in Carlisle.
"We think that Carlisle could become a major place for tourists to come to and shop," said Robert Gibbs, urban retail planner with Gibbs Planning Group.
Gibbs is part of the team assembled by Stromberg/Garrigan & Associates to develop an urban redevelopment plan for a study area in the northwest section of town that encompasses three former industrial sites — the former Carlisle Tire and Wheel, the former International Automotive Components and the former Tyco properties.
He presented his findings at a session Wednesday morning that focused on the economy and real estate market.
His work is a follow-up to a study completed last year in which he determined the downtown area could support an additional 162,000 square feet of retail space. That could include seven or eight more restaurants, a grocery store, five or six more clothing stores, two pharmacies and a selection of electronics, sporting goods and home furnishings stores, Gibbs said.
“Carlisle has a very strong potential to support a lot more retail and housing even some offices, both in the downtown area and in this study area,” he said. “We thought it would be very important in doing this analysis to recommend retail and business types that do not take those from the downtown area.”
Among those potential retail and business types are those that are too large to fit into the downtown area but would add customers to the downtown because it brings customers close to the area on a regular basis, Gibbs said.
Developers on the western side of Harrisburg have already said they would like to be established in the Carlisle area. “You are seen as the next flight of growth,” Gibbs said.
Retailers like urban settings and are gravitating toward historic buildings. That allows them to play into the tendency of shoppers to claim they hate the chain stores, but still shop in them. “The chains now like to look like they’re not a chain on the outside,” Gibbs said.
Big box retailers now have urban store plans and other retailers are “bending the rules” of retail by moving into two-story buildings or even building new structures made to look historic. “It would be more sustainable if you could stop the next strip center from being built on a farm and have those same retailers build in a walkable, urban format that looks like this,” he said.
“We’re recommending that modern, large-format retail be there (at the former industrial sites), but that it be designed in a walkable way,” Gibbs said.
Residential growth is exploding in walkable cities, Gibbs said. Apartments on three or four floors above the retail space on the ground floor are popular with empty nesters who want to downsize and with young professionals. Both groups like the easy accessibility to shops and restaurants.
Gibbs showed an example of a mixed-use center in which retail spaces were complemented by offices on the second floor. The offices leased well, Gibbs said, because employees were happier with the location that allowed them to go out to lunch, visit the coffee shop or go shopping during breaks or after work.
Gibbs said there’s also strong demand to build an enclosed, year-round market with approximately 30-40 vendors. Grants are available from the federal government, but they take a lot of legwork.
Still, the effort could pay off. “If you do build it, it will become your main tourist attraction,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs said the recommendation for mixed use in the renewal districts comes with a vision to have that area feel like an extension to the downtown. “In your case, what’s good for High Street is good for here and vice versa. If your High Street would go into a decline, it would definitely hurt your property values here,” he said.
Though recommendations will be made, the decisions about what will be put on the former industrial sites will be up to the community. “Our job is to tell you what you can support. Your job is to say what you want,” Gibbs said.