Agreement revives York's Valencia Ballroom
No one had to tell Jeremiah Anderson that he was on pretty special ground as he walked off the dance floor dimensions inside York's Valencia Ballroom.
“It’s an amazing space, with a tremendous amount of history,” Anderson said. Curious as to the size of the dance floor, he measured it, unofficially, at 114 feet long and 54 feet wide. “When you consider some of the people who have performed in here, and some of the events that have been in here, it’s just incredible.”
Anderson, co-owner of two downtown York restaurants, made a decision that was as much personal as it was professional this past fall when he reached a deal with the Valencia’s long-time owners, Kinsley Properties of York.
Under the agreement, Anderson and Tom Sibol, co-owners of the White Rose Bar & Grill and Rockfish Public House in York, will bring in and serve food and drink for weddings, business meetings and community dinners at the Valencia, 142 N. George St.
The deal allowed Kinsley to reopen the ballroom, which had been closed since 2015, Kinsley Properties’ president Tim Kinsley said.
Anderson said his motivation wasn’t just about expanding his restaurant brand and business.
It also was about seeing a need and filling it, to help downtown York continue to grow, he said.
With the Yorktowne Hotel closed through 2018 for renovations, the reopened Valencia will provide a much-needed large venue space in the city, Anderson explained.
Catering lease ends
The historic Valencia has hosted performers from Frank Sinatra to Glenn Miller, but had been closed since Altland House Hospitality Inc. ended its lease with Kinsley in July 2015. Altland had run its catering business from the Valencia for more than 15 years.
Anderson has already hosted six events since he took over event operations in late November, including a show by newly reunited York rock band, Live, which played a set at a private event on New Year’s Eve.
A seventh event, the annual “A Taste of York City” fundraising gala, will bring in 300-plus guests next Friday, and a big band festival is planned for the Valencia on April 22. The big band event aims to both spotlight York’s role in the history of swing music up to World War II and to promote the Valencia, said Terrence Downs, a York historian and one of the organizers.
Downs said he wants his event to be an annual showcase that also puts the spotlight on downtown York’s resurgence.
“There is a wonderful euphoria going on in downtown York right now, but bringing in more business is the only thing that’s going to make it work,” he said.
Kinsley said the momentum appears to be building at the Valencia, and Anderson and Sibol are starting to get a lot of bookings for 2017.
Anderson said the Yorktowne’s announcement that it would close Nov. 6 left a void for people or groups hoping to hold large events.
The timing of the Valencia’s reopening has been crucial, a leader of a York-City economic-revitalization and improvement organization said.
“Without the Valencia, potential customers in need of large meeting space would be forced to take their events out of downtown until the Yorktowne reopens,” said Silas Chamberlin, CEO of Downtown Inc.
Now, York can host events in a refurbished building with a rich history, Chamberlin said.
He expects the White Rose/Rockfish team to offer high-quality food and service, and when the Yorktowne reopens, the two event locations will complement one another, Chamberlin predicted.
Chamberlin, who has only been in his Downtown Inc position since this past fall, has been impressed by the “willingness of our businesses to make community-oriented investments” in York County. Kinsley, Anderson and Sibol’s partnership is a good example of business leaders having a vision “for what downtown should be and then investing to make it happen,” he added.
A veteran downtown York merchant, Caroline Morris, said she was excited when she heard the Valencia was going to reopen.
“I’ll go sweep the floors if that’ll get them open faster,” she said.
She went to a recent arts award dinner at the ballroom that easily handled 800 guests, said Morris, owner of the Kimman’s Co. gift shop on Beaver Street. “It accommodates so many different types of functions.”
A team effort
Anderson, when he heard about the Yorktowne’s closure, talked quickly with Tim Kinsley. “We said (to him), ‘You have the ability with the building, we have the ability to facilitate some of these functions, so is there a way we can come together to make sure downtown York can continue to have space available for these larger community events?’ It just happened really fast from there.”
Inside the Valencia, Kinsley Properties quickly refinished the dance floor, replaced over 1,600 light bulbs and patched holes in the walls, Anderson said.
No special structural or substantial renovation was needed, Tim Kinsley said. “It was more a case of giving it a new shine, polishing it up. A little tuning.”
More work is planned inside the ballroom, like replacing carpeting and upgrading the bar, while maintaining its distinctive character, at the back of the dance floor, Anderson said.
Anderson, who’s 39 and went to Bermudian Springs High School in Adams County, remembers going to his prom at the Valencia.
“And I think everybody in the area had their prom here. And now they’re the decision-makers in the business world, the decision-makers for charitable organizations that are holding events here,” he said
Anderson and Sibol have started a new company to do the catered events at the Valencia, and have an event coordinator (Julie Wilt) to meet with potential customers and show them the space.
When the Yorktowne closed, Anderson bought a series of tables and chairs from the historic hotel to use at the Valencia.
He has a staff of 120 people from the White Rose and another 35 to 45, depending on the season, at the Rockfish to draw on for Valencia events. Combined with people he will use from other York restaurants, it means “we’re using people who do this kind of job all the time, which makes it easy, because they already know how to bartend, how to serve.”