Lancaster Mayor Danene Sorace remembers when the first two blocks of East King Street had a very different vibe than the vitality they emanate today.
Those years of dark buildings and barren sidewalks make it all the sweeter for her to attend events like Monday’s — a ribbon cutting for Fulton Financial’s $21 million expansion at 23 E. King St.
“It really wasn’t that long ago when this block and the next one were boarded up. That was 10 years ago,” Sorace told a crowd of about 40 people gathered for the ceremony.
“So when you think about the trajectory that has happened here, it is anchors like Fulton that have made that possible,” she said, thanking the banking company for staying downtown when other firms did not.
Fulton’s latest venture is part of a new wave of redevelopment for that block. Two more sizable projects are set to be completed in the coming months.
Fulton’s expansion adds 60,000 square feet of space to its Penn Square headquarters. The new space is separated from the existing space by North Christian Street; a pedestrian bridge connects them.
About 200 employees occupied the upper two floors of the three-story addition in March; the space can accommodate 200 more.
The first floor will have a Subway restaurant and an office tenant; the office space remains available.
“This building, we believe, symbolizes not only the growth of our company but also the vibrancy that we have here in Lancaster and our local economy,” said E. Philip Wenger, Fulton chairman and CEO.
“We have something going right now (in the city) that’s a model and the envy of a lot of communities across the country,” he said.
Fulton took a circuitous route to reach Monday’s ceremony.
The banking company, best known as the owner of Fulton Bank, announced the plan in 2010. At that time, the site was occupied by one of the vacant buildings that Sorace remembered: a vacant Sovereign Bank office.
Fulton initially proposed a six-story version. Two years later, it unveiled an eight-story version. Then, after clearing and excavating the site, Fulton put the project on hold, filled the site, topped it with turf and re-examined its space needs. The three-story version was proposed in 2017. Groundbreaking was in early 2018.
It’s the first of three major redevelopment projects set to be completed in that downtown block this year.
A $39.4 million, 12-story addition to the Lancaster Marriott at Penn Square is set to be completed this June, bringing 110 more rooms to the property, raising its total to 416. It also will boost the workforce of the hotel and adjoining Lancaster County Convention Center from 200 to 240.
Its new restaurant, to replace the Penn Square Grille, will open in July as the Plough.
That will be followed by completion of a $3 million renovation of part of the former Art Store building, 29 E. King St., next to the Fulton expansion. Woodstream, which makes branded pest and animal control products, expects to move its headquarters (and 180 jobs) there from Lititz in August.
The renaissance of the first block of East King Street has been a gradual process. It’s brought a mix of uses to the area — offices, entertainment, restaurants and lodging — to fill voids as old as 19 years.
Here are some highlights:
The Irish pub Annie Bailey’s was a trailblazer, opening in 2006 in the former Sayres, Scheid and Sweeton men’s clothing store that went dark 11 years earlier. Next came the Lancaster Marriott at Penn Square and the adjoining Lancaster County Convention Center in 2009 — 14 years after Watt & Shand’s successor Bon-Ton was shuttered.
County government renovated and expanded its offices in the block (in the former Sears Roebuck building) in 2010; that same year, Tellus360 opened as a furniture store where Biomat USA, a plasma donation center once stood. Since then, Tellus360 has morphed into a live music mecca and expanded numerous times.
Next came the owner of CDS Group, a business consulting and automation company, who in 2013 bought a former brokerage office at King and Duke streets that had been empty for two years. Most recently, in 2015, Bistro Barberet & Bakery and Altana bar/lounge opened between Annie Bailey’s and Tellus360 in a former Rite Aid location that had been vacant since 1996.
Among the projects still to come in the block is the completion of the Art Store building’s revitalization. Its new owners envision a first floor restaurant and upper floor apartments or condominiums.