York developer Josh Hankey has gone from being admittedly “not the most motivated kid in the world” more than 15 years ago to a rising star among the city's revitalization stakeholders, with about two dozen properties in the city and a vision for what is dubbed Royal Square.
The square isn't an intersection but an actual block on the map bounded by Duke, King, Queen and Princess streets in the city — hence the name.
It will fill in a redevelopment gap between the high-profile Olde Towne East residential area and downtown projects.
Cities are coming back as places where people want to live and visit after years of flight to the suburbs, and artists are the pioneers who have made it happen elsewhere, Hankey said. They make a place interesting and draw people from the community and beyond, getting the ball rolling for more shops, restaurants and other businesses catering to the people who decide to live and visit there.
The first wave of artists coming to the area happened somewhat naturally, thanks to low rents, including what would grow with Hankey's help to become the nonprofit The Parliament gallery and studio space on East King Street.
With The Parliament, he has the unique position with the group as landlord and treasurer.
"They said then I can make sure I get paid the rent," Hankey said.
It's in keeping with his philosophy in business and in life.
"I figure that if I can help other people to be successful, then that will make me successful," he said.
And for the rest of what he envisions over the next several years as becoming Royal Square, it's more of the same with quality-but-affordable rentals with more gallery or retail space mixed in.
"Changing a neighborhood is not something where you come in and bulldoze everything down or you just chase everybody out and start over," Hankey said.
City-based YWCA York is a partner helping to seek state tax credits for the project after city officials approached it to help apply under its nonprofit status, Chief Development Officer Jennifer Brillhart said.
"It is a continuation of the work we have been doing in terms of the location" near the Olde Towne East investments, she said.
The kind of development Hankey is doing — taking a few properties at a time and upgrading them, particularly in strategic areas — is exactly what the city needs more of, said Sonia Huntzinger, executive director of York betterment nonprofit Downtown Inc.
Hankey invests in his tenants, and the strategy is paying off, she said.
"He's been really quiet, really under the radar," Huntzinger said. "Until all of a sudden, here's this guy who owns basically the whole block, and he's being very successful."
Hankey is a York County native who graduated from Red Lion Area Senior High School and took the military path instead of college. He was in the U.S. Army stationed in Maryland on Sept. 11, 2001.
It was a wakeup call for him, and maybe for his entire generation, coming out of the sense that if you grew up in America, you could do anything and you were safe, Hankey said.
He came to realize that both might still be true, but only if everyone works hard to make it happen. Those things are not givens, he said.
Around the same time, the boom in home values was on.
Hankey, who spent nearly eight years stationed in Maryland as a satellite technician, wanted to buy a house but couldn't afford one on his salary. So he purchased a multifamily property, lived in one unit and rented out the others.
It was the beginning of what would grow at one time to become property holdings in three states and today includes about two dozen properties in York held under two ownership portfolios with partners.
His philosophy along the way has been pretty simple: Take care of tenants and they'll take care of him.
A coat of paint, some new cabinets and exposing wood floors are sometimes all it takes to attract a young professional tenant for $600 to $700 a month. And out of about 45 total units, Hankey said, he might have just one bad tenant a year.
In fact, the side business of fixing up properties as they were acquired and rented out was incorporated in 2009 as York-based Susquehanna Renovations Inc.
The business was his primary focus during the worst of the housing downturn when he didn't buy any new properties for a year and instead contracted out his services to other owners.
Along the way, Hankey said, he hasn't leaned on formal schooling to learn what he's needed to know in his businesses. He credits the military for instilling a can-do spirit and his family for helping him every way they can.
Education: U.S. military, some college
Family: “Amazing family and friends”
Hometown: Red Lion
Current residence: York
First job: Bussing tables at Heritage Hills Golf Resort
Current job: President, Susquehanna Renovations
Last book read: “On Target” by Marian Van Landingham
Guiding philosophy: Believe in people.