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Yorktowne’s history awaits its next chapterHub for York civic and social life could be listed for sheriff’s sale

By , - Last modified: February 15, 2011 at 11:22 AM

When Tom Wolf was growing up in York County in the 1950s and 1960s, the Yorktowne Hotel was the place to be.

York visitors stayed in the towering landmark built with money raised from the community, said Wolf, now chairman and CEO of The Wolf Organization Inc., which owns York-based building products company Wolf.

“The idea was that every self-respecting city had to have a hotel,” he said.

The Yorktowne Hotel in downtown York faces a possible sheriff’s sale, according to court documents. The landmark hotel, built in 1925, is a center of the city’s civic and social activities. Photo/Amy Spangler
But unless something changes in the coming weeks, the hub for York business and civic life at 48 E. Market St. could be listed for a sheriff’s sale, according to court documents.

The possible sheriff’s sale comes after PNC Bank declared a loan default on York Hotel Group, the hotel’s owners since 2007, according to court documents filed in October.

The historic 11-story Yorktowne Hotel was built in 1925 through a stock-selling campaign in the community by the local chamber, said Tom Donley, president of the York County Chamber of Commerce.

The hotel has more than 120 rooms, valet parking and an attached parking garage, two restaurants and meeting and banquet facilities.

“It is downtown York’s business hotel,” Donley said.

A changing business

Since around the 1960s, hotels cropping up on a city’s outskirts and chains have been the trend over standalone, independent hotels in cities. The remaining businesses can be costly to upgrade and require a lot of work to keep viable in the market.

Today, the historic Yorktowne remains a center for business and civic activity in York, said David Bode, managing partner with York-based Rock Commercial Real Estate and president of the Economics Club of York.

The Economics Club holds its monthly breakfast meetings at the hotel. Bode said there probably isn’t another venue that could accommodate the group as well.

Rock also has clients stay at the Yorktowne during visits, Bode said.

Other hotels in York County might offer a nice stay, but they don’t offer such a high-quality restaurant or the nearby downtown entertainment and attractions, Bode said.

Losing the downtown hotel would be “devastating,” said John Klinedinst, president and CEO of York-based engineering firm C.S. Davidson Inc. and chairman-elect of the chamber.

Klinedinst said he is at the Yorktowne six to eight times a month for group and business meetings and has never been disappointed.

“It is the central point to meet people,” he said.

Every person he has recommended to stay there has raved about it, Klinedinst said.

If the current owners can’t work out a deal and keep the hotel, Klinedinst said he expects someone in the community would step up and help the Yorktowne stay in business.

“Every city needs a top-notch, downtown hotel that represents the city,” Klinedinst said. “It is just too important of a facility and building to stand vacant.”

It is too early to speculate about what could happen with the Yorktowne, Donley said. But it seems early enough in the process to allow something to be worked out, he said.

Many people are wrapped up in issues involving lenders and borrowers today, Donley said. As for the hotel itself, the Yorktowne is a well-run and has great management, he said.

“It seems busy when I’m over there, and I’m over there quite a lot,” he said.

Previous troubles

Wolf’s family was part of an ownership group that took over the Yorktowne in the 1970s. At the time, many hotels and motels began to crop up around the edge of York and other cities across the country.

Yorktowne entered a period of decline, looking old and tired, Wolf said. So local civic leaders bought into the hotel, he said.

During some years over the following decades, it would make money, and some years it would not. Each year it recorded a loss, backers would ask the partners to put more capital into the hotel. And sometimes when the request would go out, an investor would pull out, Wolf said.

By the time the group sold the Yorktowne in 2007, the only owners remaining besides the Wolfs was the Appell family, owners of the York-based Susquehanna Pfaltzgraff Co., Wolf said.

According to filings in York County Court of Common Pleas, York Hotel Group LP entered into a loan agreement with Mercantile-Safe Deposit and Trust Company, now PNC Bank, in February 2007 for $4.5 million.

PNC Bank declared a default in October 2009, and attempts at a forbearance agreement were not successful, according to a court filing.

The court filing from late October 2010 included a check for $2,500 to sell the Yorktowne at a sheriff’s sale, according to the documents.

Exactly when Yorktowne’s owners started running into problems was not immediately clear.

Ramsay M. Whitworth with Baltimore-based Gebhardt and Smith, which represents York Hotel Group and its owners, Prashant Patel, Anil Patel and Kaushik Talati, could not be reached for comment about the case.

Historic hotels can take a lot of time and money to keep economically viable, said Joseph A. McInerney, president and CEO of the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

A hotel needs to be kept up to high standards, have a good management staff and provide service customers want. And in today’s market, things that owners need to upgrade are changing rapidly.

Newer TVs need to be in stalled to replace older models, among other needs, he said.

“No matter who you are, you have to keep up with it, or you’re not going to look like you are in the 21st century.” McInerney said. “You have to look crisp and look new.”

Whether an independent hotel can survive today depends on market generators more than population in an area, McInerney said. If there are enough attractions to bring people to an area, then a hotel can thrive.

Wolf said the current owners have done a great job with the Yorktowne, and he hopes they can hold onto the business.

Upgrades have included improving the restaurants and giving fresh coats of paint in the public rooms. And the new owners have done a great job with the food, Wolf said.

The hotel’s most recent assessed value is $1,979,580, according to the York County Assessment Office.

The new owners have not asked for help that Wolf is aware of, but he imagines the best way to help would be to go to the hotel’s restaurants, book wedding receptions and, in general, patronize the hotel.

“I think they have the best interests of the hotel at heart,” Wolf said. “It is one of the best restaurants in the region.”

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