Downtown York already is a great place to visit, but “it’s a better place to live,” James Norrie said.
So why not add condominiums to the mix as the Yorktowne Hotel is renovated? Residents could live at the same hotel where politicians and celebrities from Richard Nixon to Eleanor Roosevelt, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles and Bob Hope once stayed, Norrie wondered.
Norrie, associate dean of York College’s Graham School of Business, was one of about 175 people attending a community forum Monday to offer suggestions on what to feature at the Yorktowne when it re-opens in two years.
Some 175 people, offering a slew of suggestions, attended the “Re-envision the Yorktowne” session at York’s Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center, led by officials guiding the effort to renovate the Yorktowne.
The 91-year-old hotel, called “York’s community hotel,” closed early this month for what’s expected to be a two-year renovation effort, said its owners, the York County Industrial Development Authority. Costs could run as high as $40 million, an official said at the meeting.
Dozens of ideas came Monday, such as opening an outdoor pool or bar on the hotel rooftop (where a restaurant/bar/gathering spot has been proposed), putting a speakeasy in the basement, or making it “a great location for office space,” according to one suggestion.
York-area resident and business owner Doug Knight said the Yorktowne could use a concierge like other classic hotels, such as the Willard in Washington D.C.
“All of the great hotels have them, have the great information at their fingertips on how to get people around the community,” Knight said after Monday’s two-hour session.
The hotel also needs to be a place where 300-plus people can gather for an event, some said.
Put a ballroom on the rooftop to take advantage of the terrific view, others added.
Baltimore architect Todd Harvey, senior partner in BHC Architects, design architects for the Yorktowne project, told the audience the Yorktowne has some great old features – and some old pipes and other signs of age that must be addressed
BHC, among other efforts, created the design to convert Baltimore’s historic 1914 Recreation Pier Hotel into a luxury boutique hotel.
With the Yorktowne, “I think that the most important challenge is restoring the historic spaces that exist within this building,” he said, adding: “I think the real challenge is to not only upgrade it … and do it in a way that brings it up to code, but to do it in a way that’s sensitive to the history of the building and make sure we maintain that character.”
The Yorktowne’s owners for the past year, the York County Industrial Development Authority, 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 toward the Yorktowne effort, YCIDA project manager Blanda Nace told the audience Monday.
When the Yorktowne does re-open, Harvey said he expects the East Market Street historic hotel to have fewer rooms than its recent total of around 120. It may also have retail shops at street level.
It has not been determined when the renovation will begin, and whether the hotel will be aligned with a name hotel like Hilton or Hyatt or not, he added.
The Yorktowne until the late 1960s was the major conference center in York. In the 1970s, two of its floors were used for York College dormitories, officials said.
Organizers of Monday’s session also said they were pleasantly surprised by the strong turnout. “Obviously, there’s a huge interest in this,” one said.