“But doing it with a building like this — that’s a different animal,” said Harvey.
“This” is the Yorktowne Hotel, which closed in early November for two years of renovations. It was the focal point of a community brainstorming forum for York business and community leaders on Monday.
Harvey, a senior partner for BHC Architects, was among the speakers at the meeting in York. BHC is the design architect for the Yorktowne project and a Baltimore-based firm that knows a little about restoring old hotels.
It created the design to convert the Maryland city’s historic 1914 Recreation Pier Hotel into a luxury boutique hotel.
He expected familiar challenges in renovating the Yorktowne, the 91-year-old hotel on York’s East Market Street.
“Just bringing the building up to code is going to be a challenge,” he said. The Yorktowne has sustained water and other damage in recent years, Harvey noted.
“But I think that the most important challenge is restoring the historic spaces that exist within this building. And they are probably the building’s biggest asset, the ballroom, the lobby, spaces that give the building its character and are a part of the history of the building,” he continued.
Of Central Pennsylvania’s three largest cities, York is the only one without a modern flagship hotel and event space at its center. Harrisburg has the Hilton Harrisburg, while Lancaster has a convention center and the Lancaster Marriott at Penn Square.
About 175 people attended Monday’s “Re-envision the Yorktowne” session held at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center.
The York County Industrial Development Authority, which has owned the Yorktowne for the past year, this fall received a $10 million state matching grant for the hotel renovation.
The authority so far has raised around $6 million of its $10 million match through donations, other grants and gifts, YCIDA project manager Blanda Nace told the audience Monday.
As for the final project cost, “we’re somewhere between $14 million and $40 million, and I’m only half-kidding about that,” Nace said as the audience laughed. Costs could change in the next few years.
Harvey, who gave an overview of the upcoming Yorktowne renovation at Monday’s community forum, said later that a hotel with the lobby and ballroom of the Yorktowne would be hard to build today.
“That’s a tremendous amenity that we want to preserve and re-use, but it’s also probably one of the biggest project challenges in restoring an old building like this, because it wasn’t built to today’s codes, today’s technology, and doesn’t have the amount of insulation and fire protection” now required, he said.
Harvey, who said his firm is looking for old Yorktowne photos from the York community, also gave these details on the pending hotel renovation:
• When it re-opens, he expects it to have fewer rooms than its recent total of around 120: “We know it wants to be a hotel, but we think it wants to be a slightly smaller hotel.”
• Along with studying whether to continue offering a restaurant or restaurants at the Yorktowne, “there’s also the option of talking about other uses here. Does it make any sense to put some office space into the building, some residential space?”
• There’s the possibility of more retail shops at street level at the hotel, to “bring more life to the streetscape.”
• Officials are exploring whether to align the hotel with a major chain, like Hilton or Hyatt, or keep it as a non-affiliated “boutique” hotel like the Recreation Pier in Baltimore.
• When construction actually starts is still being determined.
• A 1957 addition to the hotel, including a parking garage, is likely to be torn down.
“Beyond that, though, what does this hotel aspire to be? They talk about this being ‘the community’s gathering space,’ and I think that’s a great way to look at a hotel,” Harvey said.
“It is a public space. As much as the people there are renting a room for the night, things like the lobby, the restaurant and the bar are places where anybody from the community can walk in and have a drink, have lunch, or sit and read the paper in the morning by a fire.
“What we want to do is find a way of enhancing that … and make it a place people want to be.”
Suggestions from the audience Monday included offering condominiums at the Yorktowne, installing an outdoor pool or bar on the rooftop (where a restaurant/bar/gathering spot has been proposed), putting a speakeasy bar in the basement and adding office space.
Plans call for re-opening the Yorktowne by the end of 2018.