Why downtown redevelopment failed in Lancaster and succeeded in Charleston, WV

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.



  1. As a Lancaster Countian from the southern end, I must confess that downtown Lancaster is not a destination. The restaurants and stores seem to be too ‘eclectic’, upscale and pricey for our tastes. We typically shop at the outlets, and dine at retaurants in Quarryville (Lapps and the Q-Ville Family Restaurant), New Holland (Yoders) , Bird-In-Hand Restaurant or Cracker Barrel at Rockvale….good food reasonably priced. As Senior citizens we try to be mindful of our budget.

    I totally agree that a smaller convention center at the Brunswick along with a mixed use facility at the former Watt and Shand would have been the more prudent and affordable use of Lancaster County taxpayer dollars. What a tragedy that the ‘Powers That Be” were able to railroad this White Elephant project into existence….they will be the only ones to benefit/profit from this fiasco.

  2. Correction on one of the interstates (I-63) that serve the Charleston, WV area: the correct interstate is I-64 .

    EDITOR: Thanks!

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