Plans advance for Lancaster Square

A rendering shows changes to Lancaster Square that would make room for the Lancaster Public Library and add parking. - (Photo / Submitted)

Redevelopment plans for both private and public spaces along the eastern side of Lancaster Square are falling into place. The latest piece of the puzzle is a plan to redevelop a long-vacant building beside the Hotel Lancaster that is known as “the annex.”

A project proposed by Meeder Development Corp., Benchmark Construction Co. Inc. and Lancaster Public Library would provide a new home for the library and a 300-space parking garage. The building would be transformed from its current two-story configuration into an eight-story facility. The library would be located on the first two floors with the parking garage taking up the remainder.

Heather Sharpe, the library’s executive director, said the library’s nearly 42,000-square-foot building at 125 N. Duke St. is 64 years old.

“It’s a large, old building with ongoing maintenance issues including roof leaks and mold in the basement. The basement is no longer available for public use,” she said. “We weren’t even thinking about a new facility until we were approached about this possibility a few months ago. With a new facility, we would be able to focus our funds on serving the public as a library rather than constant maintenance.”

She said the way people use libraries has changed over the years; it’s no longer all about books and reference materials.

“Today people visit the library for services such as children’s programs and the internet. The library has also become a gathering place. So we’re looking for more flexible space and more community space,” Sharpe said.

The new facility would have about 40,000 square feet of space plus nearly 3,000-square feet of unfinished basement space, which is close to what the library has now. Although the move is only one block, she said, “It will put us in the heart of the city. I’m excited about the move.”

The two-story annex building formerly housed the Eric Theatre, a two-screen movie theater that closed in the mid-1990s, and an extension of the conference room facilities of the hotel. It is owned by Grant Street III LLC, whose investors include John Meeder and Sam Wilsker. Both Meeder and Wilsker are involved in Meeder Development Corp., the company behind Hotel Lancaster.

Meeder said the proposal was sparked by a request for proposals to repurpose the vacant building issued by the City of Lancaster with the approval of Grant Street III.

“Benchmark was already working with the library to find solutions to the issues they were facing with their aging building. Adding them into the mix of uses for the building made sense,” he said. “We also needed more parking space for the hotel, and the parking garage will also serve the employees at 101NQ.”

He said having the library on the first two floors will not only provide an attractive streetscape, it will also connect it with the pedestrian flow on the square.

Randy Patterson, Lancaster city’s director of economic development and neighborhood revitalization, said the proposed garage would not connect to the existing Duke Street Garage. Instead it would be accessed via a ramp from Duke Street. It would also re-open a connection to Christian Street for pedestrians and a bikeway.

“This is the best sense of a public-private project. Private developers would construct the building, then it would be turned over for public use,” Patterson said.

Meeder added: “It’s the right thing to do for that building in that location, but we’re still working out details on the hand-off. I have a huge commitment to downtown Lancaster; I’ve been doing projects in the city for over 30 years. Our project architect, Hammel Associates Architects, has been involved with projects in the city for over 40 years.”

Ted Vedock of Hammel Associates said that particular block has been “underutilized for decades.”

“The first block and the 200 and 300 blocks of North Queen Street have been revitalized in the past decade, but this block was in the middle with the east side mostly vacant,” he said. “This project ties the blocks together.”

Patterson said a tentative timeline for the project includes demolition in April 2019 followed by construction. Anticipated completion is spring 2020.

Already underway are projects to redevelop the long-vacant 212,000-square-foot building at 101 N. Queen St. (now known as 101NQ) and to rebrand the Hotel Lancaster as a Holiday Inn, renovate 90 of its rooms and add a restaurant at street level. The city of Lancaster also has unveiled plans to revamp the public space at Lancaster Square.

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