Federal Courthouse in Harrisburg

CASE STUDY: Reaching a “Tipping Point” on a Small Budget

CourtHouse.jpgThe federal General Services Administration (GSA) was seeking a site for a new federal courthouse in Harrisburg for more than three years. According to news media, more than $1 million had been invested in three formal site searches, each failing to result in a consensus location agreeable to GSA, the federal judiciary, local and regional elected officials and the community. Three times, the GSA announced a tentative site (or sites) and three times the community balked. The protracted process allowed time for community preferences to develop.

Triad Strategies was hired by local developers to recruit support for a site at the northern edge of the central business and government building district. While the vacant site would be immediately available for development and met all acreage and physical criteria established by GSA, the federal agency rejected the site because of a lack of amenities such as quality restaurants, dry cleaners, drug stores, nail salons and other conveniences that might serve federal building employees, lawyers and visitors.

While the “feds” remained opposed, the community coalesced over the period of a year, united in its support for the site at “Sixth and Reily Streets.” In fact, at one meeting of the community coalition growing out of Triad’s efforts, it was observed that the courthouse project had resulted in a true first for Harrisburg – it united all aspects of the community in a common goal. Involved and supporting the Sixth and Reily site were the Mayor and the City Council (often at odds), the county commissioners, the Chamber of Commerce, the Council of Churches, the Black Ministerium, the NAACP, the Historic Harrisburg Association, the community neighborhood councils around the Sixth and Reily site, downtown business leaders, the city’s members of the General Assembly and some suburban lawmakers and all three of the state’s federal elected officials – both U.S. Senators and Harrisburg’s Congressman.

An argument could be made that this unanimity was due to the very process of securing consensus: talking sequentially to all of the stakeholders; listening to the community and responding; and, maintaining positive lines of communication. When an entity responded with support, Triad kept in touch and provided editorial resources to help early adopters make themselves heard and appreciated.

When an entity responded with reservations, they were addressed; when they responded in the negative, they were asked to keep in touch and keep and open mind.

A key lesson, we believe, is to recognize that people do not adopt a position in perpetuity. That applies to supporters as well as opponents and the fencestraddlers in between. Adoption is a process over time and “retention” of support requires reinforcement over time as well.