REF Speaks: Turning Around Downtown Lancaster

A reader recently forwarded “Turning Around Downtown; Twelve Steps to Revitalization”  by Christopoher B. Leinberger. https://www.brookings.edu/research/turning-around-downtown-twelve-steps-to-revitalization/

This is indeed a very informative article, albeit a dozen years old.  If it were to be written today, I think there would be some modifications but the overall thrust would remain.

One thing that is not taken into consideration is the change in attitude that has taken place over the past four decades.  Rather than a strong sense of community input and initiatives, today’s efforts are based upon private profit at the expense of future taxpayers.  We has especially been the situation here in Lancaster.

Aa few good things have taken place  in downtown Lancaster, mostly due to federal and state funding, such as the reconstruction of pedestrian walks at intersections by eliminating curbs.

However the major public investments have been in the convention center complex in a manner that enriched the developer and equitable owner of the adjoining Marriott Hotel in a disgraceful money grab that continues to this day with the Marriott Tower addition via the CRIZ program.

Renovation of the former Brunswick to become a Holiday Inn, to a lesser degree aided by CRIZ, plus adding a hundred rooms to the Marriott may undermine the hotel room market in downtown Lancaster.  Before long, downtown hoteliers may  be calling for a bigger convention center to try to fill their rooms.

Furthermore, the City turned its back and actually became an obstacle to the gentrification to the south of center city, one of the city’s most depressed areas.   That was due to the positioning of the convention center as a virtual Chinese Wall and thus creating a dead space along the first block of South Queen Street except those days when there is convention center has activity.  Rather than gentrification spreading south in a natural fashion, now vast government aid has is being offered to attract development.

The Rick Gray / Randy Patterson team urged the  return a trolley run from downtown to the Amtrak station.  The evidence supplied by NewsLanc of  abject failure of such trolleys elsewhere was so strong that even establishment figures could not deny our accuracy and the project was dropped.

While resources were poured into the convention center and hotels, the opportunity to raze and create a thriving residential community was ignored for Lancaster Square East.   In addition to a parking garage, it  consisted of the then Brunswick Hotel, its huge annex that contained a vacant movie theater, and the former Bulova Building.  As I urged to Gray and Patterson, the site could have been acquired at relatively modest that would be readily recouped through sales to housing developers.

Another opportunity missed was the expansion of the downtown library, by far the biggest attraction for downtown visitors, more so than the convention center or the ballpark on an annual basis.

In a meeting with Mayor Rick Gray during his first term, I was made aware of his disdain for the homeless as he glared out his window at those lined up across from City Hall for free breakfasts at the church and some later going to the library to keep warm. Just as the library was prepared to double its size and renovate, a $3 million state grant was yanked away to pay for the convention center.

Gray also showed little interest in educating city children. He drove deals with Penn Square Partners whereby the city received contribution in lieu of real estate taxes but was apparently disinclined to either fight for a similar contribution for the School District of Lancaster or share city proceeds with it.

Downtown Lancaster benefited from the national demographic trend of population back to cities and it took place on its own including the establishments of many art galleries and restaurants.  Soon new housing began to be built or created through conversions for residential sales and rentals.

Gray and Patterson took credit for the progress but used our children’s and grandchildren’s tax dollars to support unnecessary and questionable projects, especially profiting Penn Square Partners, a partnership of interest of Dale High and of the Steinman family that owns the Lancaster Newspapers.

No opportunity was overlooked to do with taxpayers’ money what could have been done through free enterprise.

The day of developers acting at their own risk and expense seems behind us, at least here in Lancaster.   Better to steal from our children’s future.

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Updated: January 7, 2018 — 10:51 am

1 Comment

  1. This should be sent to LNP as a “letter to the editor’. They are always crying for more letters to add to the public discourse in civil ways…..this would certainly do that!!

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