He paused momentarily before he said it. Then he said it.
"I really think we're closer than we've ever been."
State Rep. Kevin Schreiber of York was talking about the Northwest Triangle project, a main cog in the city's downtown revitalization efforts.
"I think in the next couple years, we're going to see some real progress," he said. "I just cringed when I said that."
You can't blame him. Schreiber has been working on the downtown revitalization project for almost a decade, first as an intern with the city, later as York's director of Economic & Community Development, and now as the recently elected state representative for the area of the city where the project is designated.
In that time, he's seen starts, stops, delays, setbacks and announcements, but he knows how many times city residents have been given early promises about the future of the project that never came to fruition on time.
That's why he's careful in choosing his words now and confident the project has turned a corner.
"Who could have predicted some of the challenges we would have?" he said about the recession and its effect on the business world, the construction industry and the housing market. "The public consistently hears how there is forward progress, but they may not really see activity there on a daily basis. But it's been happening."
The three-phase project's first phase was completed with the opening of Sovereign Bank Stadium, where the York Revolution professional baseball team plays, and also some of the surrounding businesses.
The second phase is ongoing to attract commercial business to some of the district's old warehouses. LSC Design is poised to move about 50 employees into the renovated Thos. Somerville warehouse this year, Schreiber said. The York Academy Regional Charter School, on the fringe of the triangle, opened two years ago in the old Smyser-Royer Building at 32 W. North St.
The third phase — a 5.2-acre residential/mixed-use area — is where some of the most recent developments have occurred. The Codo Development Group, which already has built two apartment complexes in the city, has a contract from the York Redevelopment Authority Board to build two apartment buildings in the triangle, and group manager Eric Menzer said the first building is taking shape.
The group recently downsized that first apartment building it plans to build to 50 units from 65 and has raised enough equity to send the project to the design phase, Menzer said. The building will cost about $8 million, and Menzer said he believes construction could start as early as this time next year under a 10-month time frame.
That pegs the opening for the spring or early summer of 2015. Menzer said the apartments likely will rent between $850 and $1,000 per month and will be aimed at young professionals.
The second building Codo has the contract for isn't ready to start. Originally envisioned as an apartment building for "empty nesters" — age approximately 50 to 65 — it could end up as another building designed to attract young professionals looking for city living.
"We're intrigued, but it's untested," Menzer said about the market for empty nesters. "We just know the demand for the young professionals is very, very strong. All three cities in Central Pennsylvania (Harrisburg, Lancaster and York) are experiencing growth in that area, and it's happening all across the country as well."
A third piece of the residential phase is stalled. Susquehanna Real Estate of York has the option to build 10 three-story townhouses within the project's boundaries along Codorus Creek near Pershing Avenue, company officials said.
But company President Jack Kay said in an email that while the company still is examining the viability, it has not decided on a cost-effective plan. The option on the building plan through the authority runs out in October, said David Cross, chairman of the York Redevelopment Authority.
"We would not want to prevent an alternative development opportunity from taking place, and are not likely to request an exclusive option for the property," Kay said.
Cross, however, said there is a "very interested" company should Susquehanna's option expire, though he couldn't reveal the company. He also said there is strong, new interest from two different companies to build entertainment venues at two sites: The Keystone Colorworks Building on Gay Avenue and another site on Beaver Street near Codorus Creek.
That interest, Cross said, makes him confident the authority's decision to stick with the original parameters of the project — establishing a walkable, vibrant, economically stimulating site that attracts people to the downtown — is going to pay off. He said that at different points of the project there was pressure to add subsidized housing, but the authority stayed the course for more upscale housing.
"It would be way too premature to say that some of these projects are going to be slam dunks," he said. "In this arena, certainty is a bit evasive. But I am certain in the amount of interest there is. What you hear might not be certainty, but enthusiasm."