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Lancaster City Alliance finalizes 15-year economic development plan

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Representatives of Lancaster City Alliance met with city council Tuesday night and with the county commissioners Wednesday morning to present the final version of a long-term economic development plan for Lancaster.

Marshall W. Snively, the organization's executive vice president and chief operating officer, said the plan, called Building on Strength, has "broad support" from local leaders. One of the next steps will be to "empower the community to be part of its implementation." The organization will do that by going around to the city's main business hubs and talking to business owners, property owners and residents about how the plan can benefit the community, Snively said.

He said the organization also will bring together its partners – business groups, nonprofits and educational institutions among them – to "flesh out" their tactics and funding mechanisms and take the lead on specific recommendations.

"It's a 15-year plan, so not everything can happen at once," Snively said.

He stressed that much of the plan will focus on the city's downtown "core" and the "commercial hubs" that serve as neighborhood centers for the city, including East King Street; West King Street and Manor Street; South Duke Street; South Prince and Queen streets; Harrisburg Avenue and the Northwest Gateway; the Amtrak train station area; and New Holland Avenue.

The plan's overall goal is to "create an environment that fosters growth and development, elevates the economic well being of Lancastrians, and sets a foundation for healthy urban economic development for the coming years." It notes that Lancaster has enjoyed healthy growth over the past decade and is "characterized as a good place in which to invest." The city also has "numerous amenities and is recognized for its thriving arts community and strong entrepreneurial spirit," the report said.

Some of the plan's "aspirations" include attracting and retaining talent; creating jobs that provide a livable wage; creating a skilled workforce; strengthening neighborhoods and increasing property values; providing an environment where small businesses and entrepreneurs can thrive; and making Lancaster a "national model for urban economic development."

More specifically, the plan would: develop a "clearing house" offering one-stop shopping for businesses and developers; create a business registration program to inventory all Lancaster businesses; close the "gap" between achievable rental rates and the costs of new construction and rehabilitation; create a land bank to acquire blighted properties and prepare them for investment; consider creating "The Lancaster Fund" for economic development; develop the city's commercial hubs; encourage business around Lancaster Central Market; create a community land trust to ensure the long-term stability of neighborhoods and commercial hubs; identify sites that present opportunities for investment; encourage entrepreneurship; create more co-working spaces and places for creativity and job training; establish a healthy food initiative; promote tourism and the benefits of living in the city; and improve traffic patterns and streetscapes.

The plan also names specific outcomes that it would like to reach by 2030: increasing the per capita income to 70 percent of that of Pennsylvania; creating 300 new hotel rooms in the city's downtown and commercial hubs; creating 2,500 new residential units; achieving 100,000 square feet of new and renovated retail/restaurant space in the downtown and commercial hubs; creating 300,000 square feet of office and flex space; and realizing $1 billion in private capital investment.

Some of the report's key findings include the following:

• Lancaster's population is expected to grow to more than 61,000 residents by 2018, an increase of about 2 percent. The growth rate "demonstrates that Lancaster is gaining momentum as a great place to live — mirroring national trends that point to the desire for people to move back into cities — which bodes well for future investment in Lancaster City."

• Lancaster's 30 percent poverty rate can be addressed in part by examining housing affordability, employment opportunities and access to capital in the city. But "it will require a coordinated and comprehensive effort that involves many entities throughout Lancaster City and its neighboring communities within Lancaster County."

• Lancaster has $270 million in annual retail sales but "leaks" about $443 million in consumer spending to the surrounding area each year. The report said the city's commercial neighborhoods present some prime retail opportunities such as building material and garden equipment stores, grocery stores, general merchandise and discount stores, and restaurants.

• Lancaster has "an excess of office space" with lower rents than competitive markets, which could bode well for the national trend of companies shifting their offices to downtown and urban locations rather than suburban spaces.

• Except for 2009, Lancaster's tourist trade has increased every year for the past 10 years, with occupancy rates, average daily rates and revenue per available room all increasing as well.The renovation of existing hotel properties in the city and the growing national trend of urban hotels could help to "meet pent-up demand" in Lancaster.

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Larry Portzline

Larry Portzline

Larry Portzline covers York County, nonprofits, workforce and education. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at larryp@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @CPBJLarryP. Circle Larry Portzline on .

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