Until 2005, Robert Field, was largely unknown to the general Lancaster County public, a place that had been his home for almost 40 years. But the Philadelphia-born Field, then in his late sixties, was not completely anonymous in Lancaster. Field was a man of education, ability, and means, whose local friends and acquaintances included academics, musicians, and some at the top of the local Lancaster establishment.
Robert Field was then chairman (and founder) of the Lancaster-based, The Manor Group, “a family of independent companies.” The Manor Group developed and managed apartment complexes and hotels, in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States.
Field owned no hotels in Lancaster County, and thus had ‘no dog in the fight’ concerning the current downtown project. Field hadn’t paid much attention to the issue, but now, with the recent media focus on the project, he became more interested in the matter.
“Our firm had twice over a decade looked into buying the Brunswick Hotel,” said Field. “But we declined because we recognized the scant market for a downtown hotel. I came to feel morally compelled to raise questions about building yet another hotel in the same market.”
In April, 2005, Robert Field went to the Penn Square office of Rufus Fulton, CEO of Fulton Bank, to discuss the project with him. Fulton, whose bank held the smallest stake in Penn Square Partners, referred Field to Jack Buckwalter, Chairman of Lancaster Newspapers. Buckwalter, in turn, suggested that Field meet with Dale High, CEO of High Industries, and the general partner of Penn Square Partners.
The three meetings took place over a four-day period. Field recalled the meetings:
“My conversation with Rufus at the bank gave me reason to believe that he lacked confidence in the convention center project. I surmised that Fulton felt obliged to go along with major clients of the bank by taking a small partnership interest. Jack, at the newspaper, explained that he had been immersed over the past year in directing other Steinman enterprises, and had left the convention center project in the hands of Dale High. When I met with High, I asked Dale if there was a feasibility study, and he said ‘Yes,’ but he declined to let me see it. He did not dispel my perception of the existing downtown hotel market (or lack thereof.) According to Dale, he had assurances from major firms that they would move to downtown provided the convention center project went ahead. High’s explanation of why the new hotel would succeed struck me as: ‘If we build it, they will come.’”
In October, Robert Field shared his thoughts on how best to develop the Watt & Shand site and downtown Lancaster in an Op-Ed piece that appeared in the “Perspective” section of the Sunday News. In that article, Field suggested a mixed-use, residential and commercial, for the building.
There was another aspect of the project that brought Robert Field into the convention center battle. Field bristled at the Lancaster Newspapers reports suggesting only a few dissident Lancaster County citizens objected to the project.
“I read in the Lancaster Newspapers that the only a small group of obstructionists opposed the convention center project,” Field said. “I just didn’t believe that.”
Field was also a veteran political activist, having in 1980 been Sen. Arlen Specter’s campaign finance chairman, and a longtime leader in the drug policy reform movement. He went to Fox 43 Television in York, Pennsylvania, and encouraged them to sponsor a public opinion survey of the project, at Field’s expense.
The questions for the poll were developed by Fox 43 news and Opinion Dynamics, a nationally well-known polling firm that performed surveys for the Fox network among many other national clients.
The startling revelation of the Fox poll results was that 78% of those with an opinion disapproved of the county guaranteeing any portion of the convention center bond issue.
Dissatisfied with how the newspaper reported the principal findings of the poll, Field paid for a half-page advertisement in the morning and afternoon newspapers for the publication of the entire report.
A short while later, Field received a parcel, sent anonymously, which contained all of the studies done on behalf of the project. Field, a builder for decades of projects large and small, was astonished. None of the studies were “feasibility studies,” as purported by project sponsors.
“All of them were ‘market studies’,” Field said. “Market studies do not include projections of economic viability, profits or loss.”
Field contacted American Valuation Group, Inc., a firm of Appraisers Institute-certified appraisers. The Appraisers Institute is the leading organization for professional real estate appraisers. It establishes standards and practices for real estate appraisal. One of the American Valuation analysts, Mark Kenney, Member, Appraisers Institute, examined each study and wrote:
“In conclusion, my review of the five reports discussed above indicates that they are intended to be market or marketability studies, and neither are represented as feasibility studies nor include sufficient information and analysis required to be considered feasibility studies.”
Field released the American Valuation report to the media.
After reading Kenney’s analysis, Field became concerned about an application the LCCCA had submitted to the state three years earlier, in September, 2002. James Pickard, at the time chairman of the LCCCA board, had represented the following on an application for a $15 million grant:
“Please see the attached Market and Economic Analyses for the Proposed Lancaster County Convention Center prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLC. This report represents the results of the market and economic feasibility for the project and includes a recommended building program and utilization estimates as well as a financial and economic impact analysis. [Emphasis added.]”
For six years, sponsors of the project had freely used the term “feasibility study” to describe studies that had done on behalf of the project. Field discovered – and had certified – that no true feasibility study had actually been performed on a project.
Robert Field, a man accustomed to getting things done, would see that that would change.