Fast forward to the present, and someone driving into the city on North George Street may be surprised to see a construction project at the site of the former Pensupreme building in the triangle, a former industrial tract that hugs a bend in the Codorus Creek.
To the uninformed, the 65,000-square-foot structure seems to have just popped up out of nowhere. But the future home of York Academy Regional Charter’s upper school, along with a steady flow of projects throughout the city, feels like a spark that could finally push ambitious plans for the Northwest Triangle across the finish line.
Development of the triangle began back in 2006 with the building of what is now PeoplesBank Park. However, since the building of the stadium, development of the area has looked more like a series of individual projects than the imagined grand entrance to the city’s downtown.
Kevin Schreiber, president and CEO of the York County Economic Alliance, offers a different take.
“You have to look at the big picture,” he said, noting that development has taken place in phases.
The first phase brought the construction of the stadium, which was supposed to serve as a catalyst.
“But no one predicted the housing crisis in 2008,” Schreiber said, “which halted many development projects beyond even those expected in the triangle.”
Phase two came around 2010 with renovations to the Smyser-Royer building, a former foundry that now now houses the York Academy Regional Charter’s lower school. Renovations were made at the same time to the Thomas Sommerville building, which is the current location of architectural design firm Warehaus, formerly LSC Design.
Phase three includes the recent renovations of a former paint-mixing plant, the Keystone Color Works, into luxury living spaces.
“When looked at in its smaller components you see tremendous progress in that part of the city,” Schreiber said. “It’s a completely different neighborhood.”
According to Schreiber, the final component, which includes plots of land along Beaver Street and the Codorus, “has proven to be the trickiest.” It could include an innovation district, more residential housing, beautification of Codorus Creek and completion of the Pennsylvania Rail Trail.
Still, According to Schreiber, development in the Northwest Triangle has exceeded the original plans, which focused mostly on the stadium project and the Smyser-Royer building.
Now some are planning to take things even further, with the final result offering education, recreation, innovation and jobs.
John McElligot, CEO of York Exponential and president of educational nonprofit The Fortress Initiative, sees the future of York coming together in the Northwest Triangle. He and his partners plan to launch an innovation district in one of the area’s remaining undeveloped parcels.
“Coffee and amenities are great,” McElligot said. “But we really need opportunity and jobs.”
McElligot’s proposed innovation district will serve as a tech hub for modern manufacturing and robotics. His company, York Exponential, develops robots for use in factories.
The hub could potentially house co-working spaces, startup accelerators, incubators and research areas.
McElligot said he’s been interested in developing in the Northwest Triangle for nearly six years. There’s been potential all along, and he sees hope in the construction of York Academy’s upper school.
Other projects currently in the works for the Northwest Triangle include the Keystone Kidspace, which plans to acquire the National Guard Armory on North George Street in 2019 and the York History Center, currently exploring a move to a former MetEd steam plant in spring 2020.
“We see the spark of everything that’s going on and we think, let’s put some gasoline on this thing and really get things going,” McElligott said. “Innovation is the rocket ship,”
His enthusiasm for the innovation hub project has led to collaboration with Innovation Village, the entity behind innovation districts in Baltimore. It has established partnerships with IBM, MasterCard and nine universities in the city.
Innovation Village chairman and co-founder Richard May thinks York has all the right parts to reel in national tech partnerships with companies like Apple and Google.
“York is primed and ready to support innovation,” said May. “Especially around advanced manufacturing.”
McElligot said his partnership group will know in early 2018 if they are ready to move forward with the project.
If it comes to fruition, the innovation district would have an “incredible impact to the city itself,” said Schreiber. “It would be an excellent denouement to the Northwest Triangle project.”