Jack Kay and the team behind the Yorktowne Hotel renovation knew the challenges ahead of time.
When the York County Industrial Development Authority took on the high-profile project of resurrecting the iconic downtown hotel, nobody thought it’d be easy.
“A lot goes into redeveloping a 90-year-old building,” says Kay, the chairman of the YCIDA. “This was going to be a very difficult endeavor from the very beginning.”
But the YCIDA is no stranger to high-risk, high-reward bets, and Kay points to its track record of success as the reason to believe in the future of the Yorktowne Hotel.
Past projects, which include building PeoplesBank Park, revitalizing Marketview Arts, and helping keep Harley-Davidson in York County, were all possible by the YCIDA investing money and effort.
The Yorktowne is another one of those bets, and the people of York County need an entity willing to take on the mission of such a project.
After all, what would the city be like without a ballpark? The college without a connection to downtown? The county without the Harley factory?
We don’t need to imagine the alternatives now that those structures are in place, Kay says, and we shouldn’t have to wonder what York would be like without the Yorktowne, either, because he’s confident the iconic hotel will be another YCIDA success story once its complete.
PeoplesBank Park: An anchor for investors
York Revolution President Eric Menzer says the dream of a minor league baseball team in York started decades before plans for the Revolution fell into place.
The YCIDA aided in bringing that dream into reality by acquiring the necessary grants from the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program.
There were plenty of challenges, including assembling the properties necessary for the ballpark, attracting a team to the city, and, of course, the $31 million price tag. Years later, the persistence through those tough tasks paid off.
“The ballpark has proven what it set out to do: bring people into town for events and expose a whole new segment of people to the retail and restaurants that are downtown,” Kay says.
The benefits go far beyond an entertaining baseball team with three championships in 12 years. The ballpark created an anchor for investors to feel secure in developing the area, Menzer says.
“It’s not that nothing was there, but if you start at the old prison: Think Loud was vacant, Gable Flats was vacant, the Codo apartments were a vacant lot and an empty building, and York Academy was vacant,” he says. “If you look at the role the ballpark played as an attractor, it’s really significant.”
Marketview Arts: Connecting York to York College
It’s hard to imagine vacant space in the area around Central Market, let alone an entire building sitting empty.
The Fraternal Order of Eagles left the building at 37 West Philadelphia Street – right across from Central Market – vacant in 2007.
Two years after the building went dark, the YCIDA purchased the property, knowing it was in a very strategic place in the city albeit physically in rough shape.
“The layout of the building and the lack of accessibility was a huge issue,” says Kimberly Hogeman, Director of Strategic Development for the York County Economic Alliance. “There was a lot of work that the Fraternal Order of Eagles did themselves, creating plumbing, electrical and structural issues.”
Using funds from grant programs, the YCIDA revamped the property, planning to create a working platform for local artists with studio space on the lower levels, and then space dedicated to arts programming on the higher levels.
The project eventually became Marketview Arts, the first of several physical presences by York College in downtown York.
“If Marketview doesn’t exist, I don’t think we see York College students in York city,” says Dr. Dominic DelliCarpini, Dean of York College’s Center for Community Engagement.
The space does more than play home to classes and student artwork. Numerous artists call the studios at Marketview home, and community organizations utilize the upstairs ballroom many nights per year.
“It’s a central location for what we’re trying to do,” Dr. DelliCarpini says, “blurring the boundary between the college and the city to support the local community.”
Harley-Davidson: Staying in York County
With nearly 1,500 employees at its Manchester Township facility, Harley-Davidson is one of York County’s larger and most recognizable employers.
But in 2009, when the company sought to make its production lines more efficient, Harley-Davidson nearly left York County.
“I could just picture this huge campus being completely vacant with no prospects,” Hogeman of the YCEA says. “This became a Governor’s Action Team effort to keep those jobs here.”
To keep the company here, the IDA helped Harley secure a $14 Million RACP grant to streamline and expand the former soft-tail plant, which would then necessitate Harley’s need to sell the remaining 58 acres.
Selling the property meant demolishing the old building and dealing with environmental issues that remained from when the property was controlled by the US Army.
Years after the IDA got involved, Harley opened its new plant in 2014, and cereal giant Post Consumer Brands opened a facility of its own on the west campus site in 2015.
While Harley first cut jobs in the consolidation from 2,000 positions to 1,000, the company moved additional lines to the York plant, adding 450 jobs in the process.
Aside from keeping Harley-Davidson in the county, part of the agreement between both organizations was splitting the profits of the west campus sale that the YCIDA has since used to fund other projects.
“It’s not all about corporate companies taking everything they can get,” says Jon Mocney, General Manager of Harley-Davidson’s York Vehicle Operations. “We’re trying to have fair deals to create a win-win situation, and that’s what happened.”
The YCIDA’s intervention played a crucial part in the development, Mocney says.
“If that investment hadn’t been done, we wouldn’t be sitting here adding 50,000 square feet and two more lines.”
The Yorktowne: Solidifying downtown’s redevelopment
Aside from the construction fences, the outside of the Yorktowne Hotel might not seem all that different or like much progress has been made, but inside of those fences, the hotel is stirring back to life.
Construction crews are building a wall where the 1957 addition and unique dimensions are being replaced with new windows that meet the historic criteria while provide modern efficiency.
Concrete is being poured on every floor, and bids are out for the next stages of construction, all while the hotel moves toward its late-2020 target open date.
The Yorktowne Hotel is a unique project, the YCEA’s Hogeman says, and finding someone willing to do it the right way is difficult.
“The IDA is focused on the community benefits – jobs, training, local inclusion and community development – and the Yorktowne checks all those boxes,” she says. “This project can and will solidify the redevelopment taking place downtown.”
‘Working together to make it happen’
So, what would York be like without projects like the Yorktowne Hotel? For starters, the city could lose millions in additional development and revenue.
“We’ve seen the affect a hotel can have on a downtown in Lancaster, with 200 additional businesses in that area alone,” Kay says. “A redeveloped hotel brings confidence around it.”
An empty hotel would see less people contributing to downtown York’s economy.
“For 365 nights per year, there’s a group of people that would need to spend money in our downtown economy,” the Rev’s Menzer says. “Adding 100 people or more a night into the downtown would be enormous.”
But, it goes beyond the financial reasons. Aside from the Yorktowne Hotel’s historical significance of being the go-to place for out-of-town celebrities, musicians and politicians to stay, when it opens, it can bring so much more to people who already live in the city.
“Between serving as a community asset and employing more than 100 jobs downtown across a broad sector,” Kay says, “it has the potential to be a really significant factor in the redevelopment of the city.”
Kay realizes there’s still a lot of work left to do to complete the project, from the construction side of things to raising the necessary capital. Bids will be out for the next phase of construction in the late summer or early fall.
“Again, it’s a high-profile project, and we need a lot of people working together to make it happen,” he says. “It’s worth it to do everything we can bring the Yorktowne Hotel back to life.”