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Willow Valley organizations plan expansions, renovations in Lancaster County

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A few miles south of Lancaster, Willow Street's two biggest employers are gearing up for major changes.

On the east side of Willow Street Pike, bulldozers and dump trucks are moving earth in preparation for Willow Valley Retirement Communities' Providence Park development.

The nonprofit will build 68 apartments and more than 40 villas for resident age 55 and older, plus a large clubhouse offering dining and recreational amenities.

On the other side of the road, things look quiet. On Nov. 12, however, the 160-room Willow Valley Inn & Suites will close, and a few weeks later workers will begin demolishing it to make way for a new development, owner Willow Valley Associates Inc. said.

The development will include "retail, services and dining," but details have yet to be finalized, the company said.

"We're in very preliminary plans," spokeswoman Sheryl Holzbauer said.

Willow Valley Associates and the nonprofit Willow Valley Retirement Communities are separate organizations, but they share a history. Marlin Thomas, chairman and CEO of Willow Valley Associates and the son of its founder, is CEO of Willow Valley Retirement Management Inc., the company that manages the nonprofit's properties.

Thomas' daughter, Diane Poillon, is Willow Valley Associates' president and chief operating officer.

Willow Valley Retirement Communities was founded in the 1980s in response to numerous resort guests commenting that they wished they could retire in the area, Holzbauer said.

Its facilities offer both independent living and "supported" living for seniors who need more care.

The Providence Park development will be situated on 25 acres adjacent to Willow Valley's existing Manor Campus. Phase I calls for building 40 duplex and two single villas west and south of two large ponds on the property.

Phase II consists of five "midrise" apartment buildings totaling 68 apartments.

The villas sold out in just two months, Willow Valley spokeswoman Rosanne Macrina said.

Anchoring the development will be a 30,000-square-foot clubhouse "hallmarked by terraces and shaded pergolas," according to Willow Valley's marketing materials.

The clubhouse will house a bowling alley, golf simulator, pickle ball courts and a fitness center. Outside will be tennis courts, a heated pool and an open-air events theater.

Phase I is scheduled for completion in March 2014, and Phase II that December, Macrina said. The general contractor is Creative Construction Solutions. Willow Valley did not disclose a project cost.

In July, workers moved the Harnish House, a historic 19th-century building, about 300 feet as part of the Providence Park project. The house will sit near the clubhouse and will offer meeting rooms, locker rooms and storage space, Macrina said.

The Harnish House thus escapes the fate that awaits the Willow Valley Inn & Suites across the road. Completed in 1966, the Inn & Suites includes a restaurant and bakery and were the first elements of the Willow Valley resort to be built.

"Though it is difficult to close the original hotel and restaurant complex that so many have come to love over the years, the opportunity to transform this part of our campus to bring added benefit to our growing community is really exciting," Willow Valley Associates' Poillon said in a statement.

Today the Inn & Suites operates in the shadow of the complex's up-to-date 185-room DoubleTree Resort. Willow Valley Associates considered trying to save the Inn & Suites, but its age and layout made it impractical, Poillon said.

About 140 employees will be affected by the closure, but the company is trying to place as many as possible at its other businesses, and Willow Valley Retirement Communities is absorbing some, Holzbauer said.

Willow Valley Associates also owns and operates a shopping center across from the resort, a nearby business center and apartment and townhome developments.

Other ventures include two Harrisburg-area hotels, the Hilton Garden Inn and a Homewood Suites in Swatara Township, according to the company's profile on its website.

Willow Valley Associates employs more than 500 people in all, Holzbauer said. The retirement community employs about 1,300, and Providence Park will add about 40 to that number, Macrina said.

The resort and the retirement campuses are in Willow Street — an unusual name for a community that is neither a street nor a municipality.

Willow Street is part of West Lampeter Township, where the two Willow Valley organizations play "a very important role," according to township Manager Dee Dee McGuire.

The resort's guests and the retirement communities' residents bring plenty of business to local shops, McGuire said. In addition, the operations have been reliable employers for decades, she said.

"They do a very nice job," she said. "They're good to work with."

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