In the 1960s, downtown business people throughout the country recognized that their future was endangered due to the development of suburban shopping centers. This was just a few years before the ‘coup de grace’ was administered through the development of malls that became virtual downtowns in themselves. (Park City is the local example.)
Downtown Charleston, WV is served by three Interstate Highways, I-77, I-79 and I-63. In the 1970s, they cleared out acres of older buildings between the highways and downtown and built their own mall, flanked with parking lots. Hotels were built near the mall and highways rather than in the suburbs. The downtown area a couple of blocks away suffered from the competition but did not die.
Downtown Lancaster doesn’t even have a limited access spur to connect to the Rt. 30 bypass and Rt. 222. Thus it could not tap into suburban growth and most retail – including the short lived Hess Department store and Watt & Shand – had to try to survive on downtown and neighborhood traffic.
To this day, despite urgings of consultants for over half a century, north south through traffic travels through the downtown area by local streets. However, having preserved the character or downtown will prove to be key to a revitalized community. By then downtown will be a gentrified community with retail serving the more upscale neighborhood and downtown workers.
The original concepts of putting a smaller convention center into a revitalized Brunswick Hotel and building a mixed use retail – condominium structure at the Watt and Shand site would have better provided for the center city of the future.