Yorktowne Hotel reopening moves back as wrecking ball looms
More than a year has passed since the Yorktowne Hotel closed in November 2016 for a major overhaul, and wrecking balls could be banging into one part of the historic structure within weeks.
“My hope is that we will be able to see work on the outside fairly soon,” said Jack Kay, chairman of the York County Industrial Development Authority, which owns the hotel at Duke and Market streets in downtown York. “There is a lot going on inside.”
When it first closed, the hotel project had been slated to for completion by November 2018. It now looks like the earliest opening will be spring 2019, although Kay said that target is an estimate. It could be longer.
“It’s a little difficult to project,” said Kay. “Some of it will depend on the first phase of the demolition.”
The project has proven to be complex, involving the purchase of a property next door, hiring contractors to handle the different phases, and assessing the space and the structural issues of the building, as well as a crumbling parking garage, Kay said in November.
Those assessments determined that the old hotel had more rooms than needed, so the decision was made to demolish an addition constructed in 1957, while preserving the original facade and structure built in 1925 and an addition from 1927. That plan allows for keeping the best parts of the historic hotel and hotel rooms, while creating space for a major new access off Duke Street where the addition is being demolished.
When it was completed in 1925, the hotel “featured the elegance of a grand hotel,” according to a description on the its website. “The 11-story building was designed in Renaissance revival that reflects the vivacious spirit of the 1920s, with 20-foot-high ceilings and ornate decor.”
The hotel’s importance to York was emphasized when it was bought in December 2015 by the York County Industrial Development Authority. The deal came with a grant of $10 million from the Pennsylvania Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, with the idea that matching funds would be raised. So far, nearly $7 million has been raised toward the match, Kay said.
The industrial development authority remains the owner of the property and keeps track of its renovation, while deferring day-to-day operations and oversight contractors, such as York County-based Kinsley Construction and GF Management, a Philadelphia based national hotel operator, a spokesperson for the development authority said.
GF Management is acting as a “hospitality consultant” while the project is underway and eventually will manage the hotel, said Ashleigh Mason, vice president of development and strategies at GF. Currently, that means meeting either in person or in conference calls every other week with the architects, construction managers, engineers and other stakeholders to discuss the progress and to offer advice, Mason said.
Her staff also has been exploring partnering with a major hotel chain that would appreciate and market the Yorktowne for its unique historical significance, while allowing customers to tap into a worldwide reservation system and other operations available from a branded hotel, she said.
“In no way shape or form is to going to be a cookie-cutter chain,” she emphasized. With the Yorktowne’s special place in York and York’s history, any chain would need to not only understand the context but know how to market it as such, she said.
There has been talk of using some rooms as condominiums or apartments but nothing has been decided, Mason said. GF Management has worked with other hotel properties to market timeshares, so it is familiar with how that concept could work, she added.
“Everything still is on the table, as far as the best possible scenarios,” Mason said.
Pockets of York have been undergoing revitalization for years, and the blocks around the corner of Market and Duke streets are seeing activity that the hotel hopes to support and enhance, Kay said.
Among the hotel’s newer neighbors is York College, which was given the old Lafayette Club across Market Street in 2015. It has converted the historic social club into a college branch, said John Hughes, chair of the hospitality, recreation and sports management department at York College.
For about 18 months, the college’s hospitality management program requires students to get real-life experience in hospitality industries. The college has been working with Kay and Mason to figure out ways to help each other, Hughes said.
“We are very enthusiastic about the development of the Yorktowne Hotel,” he said. “We are well positioned to be a great service to them.”
Mason said such partnerships are exciting, as well as mutually beneficial, and she has been working closely with Hughes, because any partnerships could also help students.
Kay agreed but added that the York College connection is just one way that the Yorktowne support its neighborhood, as well as the city as a whole.
“The hotel traditionally has been an anchor in downtown,” Kay said. “Everyone wants to see it back in service. It will add to the confidence and dynamic and strength of the downtown environment.”
Plans call for street-level retail operations, as well as a renovated restaurant and bar. The wish list still includes a roof-top eating and drinking area, but it is too soon to commit to such an amenity, Kay said.
Ample parking will be available through the purchase of an adjoining property that includes an outbuilding from the Zion Lutheran Church off Duke Street. That purchase also should accommodate access to the back of the property off Market Street. The old parking garage that was on the property will be demolished and be incorporated into the courtyard-like entrance off Duke Street.
When the dust settles, much of the block at Market and Duke streets will become a focal point for the city once again, Kay said.
“The objective is to make that street corner over and to have it be very lively and not a dead or dark space,” Kay said. “It will be a destination.”