LNP must share the blame for the deplorable condition of the Brunswick Hotel

“Hotel Brunswick’s mounting woes” is the heading for an editorial in the Lancaster New Era that, in part, stated the following:

“The escalating violence is only part of the problem with the Brunswick, albeit a big part…”

“The hotel has fallen behind on its taxes and fees to the city, city schools and county. It regularly delays paying its water bill, prompting the city to threaten to shut off service.”

“In short, the Brunswick hasn’t been a very good corporate citizen or neighbor.”

“Hotel Brunswick’s solution? The New York-based Brunswick investor group has the property up for sale.”

“Sell the Brunswick? That might be the best answer.”

The property has been for sale formally or informally for at least two years.  No takers.  When the Brunswick was offered to the Watchdog’s firm two decades ago, the Watchdog’s analysis was “We wouldn’t take it if it were offered to us for a dollar.”

When pointing fingers, the Lancaster Newspapers Inc. needs to account for its own involvement in bringing the Brunswick and, indeed, the entire Lancaster Square project, and also the Convention Center to their sorry states.

Let’s turn  back through the pages of history.

The following direct quotes are from NewsLanc’s “Convention Center Series”.

“By 1995, downtown Lancaster city was several decades removed from its sparkling prime of the post-war 1940s and ’50s. As the second millennium approached, the city still had not recovered from the wholesale demolition of its historic downtown retail district on the 100 block of North Queen Street during the 1970s, its subsequent failed re-development, and the flight of customers and stores to suburban shopping centers and the Park City Mall.”

“The mishandled, but well-intentioned, ‘revitalization’ of Lancaster Square no doubt scarred the community and leadership alike. For years, this area was known to locals as ‘our hole in the ground,’  a concrete jungle of abandoned buildings and empty spaces. Lancaster Square was a constant ugly reminder of the failed efforts of administrations past. Ultimately, after much transparent public debate and with misgivings by some leaders that the projects would be feasible, a Hilton Hotel (the current Brunswick) and a Hess Department Store had been constructed as end pieces of the 100 block of North Queen Street.

“The Hess Department Store closed within two years and was adapted for the manufacturing of fuses. It now stands empty.

“There was not sufficient downtown business to support the Hilton, the prestigious franchise was canceled, and for decades the hotel, under different flags but now called the Brunswick, depended largely on the patronage of groups of federal government trainees bused to Lancaster from Washington D.C

“While Lancaster County can boast a substantial tourist economy, most tourists stays at scores of suburban motels and usually spend their money at the popular suburban and ex-urban outlet malls. They often seek out ‘Pennsylvania Dutch’ cooking, tour rural roads to view the Amish, and are entertained at large, family oriented theme theaters, one of special note being Sight and Sound, a large Christian-themed live performance venue located several miles away from downtown Lancaster.”Click here to read more.

“In an excited July 1, 1997, front page Lancaster New Era article (“Design doctor hired to revive city”), Bernard Harris and Steve Tranpnell wrote:

“ ‘The doctor is in.

‘ The Lancaster Campaign hired urban designer Bert Winterbottom today to create a diagnosis and prescription for revitalizing Lancaster. Like any doctor, he plans to ask the patient about symptoms and future needs. He will interview government and business leaders and hold forums where everyone – city and county residents – can offer their ideas.’ ”

“Winterbottom and his staff took several months to perform research. They held multiple public meetings, did polls and surveys, and came up with a well publicized report, released in February of 1998.”

“It is a remarkable document in many aspects, including the vast scope of the plan. The Winterbottom Report, as it was called, examined and made recommendations for the revitalization of three separate sections of the city: Downtown (Lancaster Square & Penn Square); North Prince Street; and South Duke Street…

“Among the proposals coming from the study was the recommendation for a ‘conference center,’ to be located downtown, at the site of the Brunswick Hotel in the Lancaster Square section of the city. With upgrading of the [Brunswick] hotel,’ wrote Winterbottom on page 52 of the report, there is the opportunity to create a small, state-of-the-art conference center and additional hotel space.’

“This is apparently the moment in time when the convention center idea was publicly expressed for what has evolved into the current $186 million plus Convention Center/ Marriott Hotel project for downtown Lancaster.

“Winterbottom’s cost estimate for his “state-of-the art-conference center was but $6-$7 million!

“This is what Winterbottom’s report said on page 55 of the Watt & Shand building:

‘The Watt and Shand Building at Penn Square is the heart and soul of Downtown, Lancaster City, and the County. It is already a special place and one of great beauty, charm, interest and vitality. The challenge is to further reinforce this special place and to bring about the meaningful redevelopment of the Watt and Shand Building.’

“The report goes on to recommend:

“ ‘Provide the necessary private and public support to ensure redevelopment of the Watt and Shand Building, by a private developer, as a viable mixed-use development. Re-use of the Watt and Shand Building would reinforce and support other downtown activity by providing employment and ground-level retail activity.’”

On February 17, 1998, Bon-Ton sold the downtown historic structure, known as the Watt & Shand building, directly to Penn Square Partners for $1.25 million.

In covering the sale, the Intelligencer Journal of January 18, 1998 reported,

‘We’re looking at all the options,’ said S. Dale High, president and CEO of High Industries Inc., parent company of the real estate group.

‘We see it as a mixed-use building.’ ”Click here to read more.

No greater harm has ever been done to the downtown Lancaster area.  Had Bert Winterbottom’s proposal been followed, the Brunswick and the former Hess Department Store buildings likely would be economically viable today.   Moreover, the former Watt and Shand site would have upscale residential condominium units above a commercial level on the King Street with parking accessible from the Queen Street lower levels, thus adding to the real estate tax rolls and contributing to the gentrification of downtown Lancaster, with the likelihood of the economic uplift spreading to properties to the south.

Thus we see that the Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. has been complicit in the failure of the Brunswick Hotel because, through Penn Square Partners,  its subsidiary and partner S. Dale High’s subsidiary turned their backs on the mixed use development that was appropriate for the Watt and Shand site and instead lured the proposed smaller and more economically viable convention center from the Brunswick where it would have breathed new life into the then and  still near moribund Lancaster Square.

Updated: June 24, 2012 — 9:51 am

1 Comment

  1. “Those who ignore history are bound (or doomed) to repeat it”

    Your analysis of the Brunswick is dead on but we need to go back just a little bit father to realize our foolishness. When the Brunswick was torn down for redevelopment the FIRST time, then Mayor Monohan went to the most successful local lodging group at the time, the group that had opened and was operating the Host Town, Farm and Corral.

    That group of private businessmen studied the potential and was willing to make an investment to open a medium sized hotel with a couple of conference rooms and a coffee shop. The response from City leaders, “thanks but no thanks”. That private group’s vision of what was feasible was not grandiose enough.

    The Hilton (soon to have the old Brunswick name back) was to be part of a 3-headed behemoth with Hess and Armstrong to revitalize Lancaster City for years to come. This vision lasted 2 years. I will say that the CC did operate 3 years before default.

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