New life for Lancaster Square?
The city of Lancaster is exploring options to revamp Lancaster Square, the block of Queen Street between Orange and Chestnut streets that has long been targeted for a makeover.
And with changes coming to two prominent buildings bookending the square, momentum is building. A Lancaster software company is planning to move into the former Bulova building on one side of the square, while local developers are remaking a hotel nearby.
“This is a good opportunity to make changes to Lancaster Square. It’s not just public space, it’s the front door for these two projects,” said Marshall Snively, president of Lancaster City Alliance and a member of the steering committee working with the city on the project.
The focus is on the eastern part of the square, which straddles Queen Street. The western portion is taken up by the existing Binns Park.
“The city plans to renovate the east side of the square to complement the newly renovated buildings,” said Charlotte Katzenmoyer, Lancaster’s public works director. She said the city has earmarked $2 million for the project.
The process began in January when a request for proposals was issued to hire a consultant for the design work. A Baltimore firm, Mahan Rykiel Associates, was ultimately selected.
After seven public meetings were held to gather input from the community, concept plans were unveiled in mid-September. They incorporate a lawn, an outdoor dining area and trellis, raised planters with built-in seating, an interactive fountain area, an event plaza and adjacent stage area, outdoor seating, and an outdoor classroom/kid zone area. A raised bridge would connect the area to Binns Park and serve as a traffic-calming device.
In addition to the public input to create the plan, Katzenmoyer said the city is also seeking input on a new name for the square. She said the request for input will be made via social media.
“Redevelopment of this block has been a target on a lot of people’s radar for many, many years. It was ugly and had a lot of vacant space,” said Lisa Riggs, president of the Economic Development Co. of Lancaster County.
While the city of Lancaster is considering ways to improve the public space on Lancaster Square, two independent projects will revitalize buildings on the eastern side of the square.
The long-vacant 212,000-square-foot building at 101 N. Queen St. (now known as 101NQ) that formerly housed Bulova has been purchased by Zamagias Properties, a Pittsburgh-based commercial real estate company. It will be transformed into retail, office and residential space.
Snively said the plans for the first-floor retail area of 101NQ dovetail with the idea of outdoor space in Lancaster Square. “The redevelopment of 101NQ will likely include a restaurant as part of the first floor retail, so in redesigning the public space of the square we want to be sure to include a space for outdoor dining,” he said.
Cargas Systems will be the anchor tenant in 101NQ. Cargas, a business software and consulting company, will occupy about 33,000-square-feet of the building’s third floor. The company’s current offices are at 1310 Marshall Ave. in Lancaster.
“As an organization, we’ve been in a growth phase for several years. It became clear that we were outgrowing our ability to stay in our current location,” said Nate Scott, the company’s CEO.
Cargas had about 55 employees in 2015 and is now at 116, he added.
“We love where we’re at in the redeveloped Lancaster Stockyards complex, but we’re running out of space, so we moved our sales and marketing team to leased space at City Crossings (at Lemon and N. Prince streets). That gave us a taste of the city,” Scott said. “We wanted to be a part of the solution, part of the revitalization of the city.”
When Cargas makes the move to 101NQ in early fall 2019, Scott said it will employ about 130. And there’s room to expand to 250 employees in the space the company has leased. Like its current facility, the new space will include bike racks and showers for employees who bike to work.
Scott said a number of employees live downtown and are excited about the opportunity to walk to work.
“We even have employees who are talking about carpooling,” he said.
Scott said this is the second time Cargas has been an ‘early adopter’ of a project to redevelop an area. In 2010, the company moved to its current location in Lancaster city from a building in Granite Run in Manheim Township.
“Cargas is a huge driver. A lot of people look at that and say if they can do it, so can we,” Riggs said.
The Hotel Lancaster at 26 E. Chestnut St. is at the other end of the block. Housed on the site of the former Brunswick Hotel, The Hotel Lancaster currently uses 132 rooms, which have been renovated by a group of investors including developers John Meeder and Sam Wilsker. Reports indicate the latest project will involve rebranding the hotel as a Holiday Inn and renovating nearly 90 rooms that have not been used for over a decade.
“It’s hard to underscore how important it is to have a locally owned hotel on that block. Local investors led by John Meeder are looking to breathe new life into the space, which will also have first-floor retail. It’s not an easy project,” Riggs said.
Both she and Snively said the redesign of the public space fits well with the redevelopment activity.
“It’s a group effort. The site as a whole is significant — it’s at the core of downtown, and there’s been a concerted effort to keep downtown walkable,” Riggs added.
The concept plans unveiled in September will be refined, and an additional public input session is planned.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct section of Queen Street on which the project is focused. It is between Orange and Chestnut streets, not Orange and Walnut, as previously stated.