Arts district: Check.
Convention Center: Check.
Sixteen years after business leaders tried to revive Lancaster city with an economic development plan, many of the plan’s major components have come to pass.
Lancaster is a very different city than it was in 1998.
Restaurants, bars, art galleries and coffee shops are flourishing downtown. New apartments are being built and entertainment venues have opened. Visitors are coming for conferences and events and young professionals and empty-nesters are moving in.
Now, the concern of business and community leaders is keeping the momentum going in the right direction.
Last month, the Lancaster City Alliance contracted with a Baltimore-based consultant to begin a year-long study to guide the city’s future development.
“This is the next step, in my mind, of continuing to evolve the economic development strategy of the City of Lancaster,” said Rob Ecklin, of Ecklin Development, co-chair of the strategic plan process.
Tom Smithgall, of High Industries, is the other co-chair.
He said the plan drafted by Mahan Rykiel, of Baltimore, and local partner RGS Associates will be “community driven.”
It will be the result of proposals brought by a half-dozen working groups, expected to include residents, business people, churches and non-profit organizations, merchants and educators.
People from the city’s minority communities, young professionals and empty-nesters will be encouraged to participate.
“People were raising their hand. They wanted to be part of this process,” Smithgall said of the more than 100 people who have already volunteered for working groups.
The process will also include at least two public meetings to seek input. Online surveys and study updates will also be posted.
The strategic plan will look at the city’s downtown core, but it will also focus on four neighborhood commercial corridors: South Duke Street; King Street; New Holland Avenue/East Walnut Street; and Manor Street.
New Holland Avenue, a gateway to the city from the east, and Manor Street, a major entry from the southwest, are areas ignored in previous city development studies.
Speaking last month to Lancaster Newspapers representatives, Smithgall noted the 1998 LDR International plan was an attempt to give the struggling city “a shot in the arm” at a time when storefronts were vacant and many homes had “for sale” signs on the front.
“This is more of a strategic plan, as opposed to a reaction to a need,” he said of the new study.
Yet, like the LDR plan, he expects the Mahan Rykiel study to make recommendations for broad policies and prescriptions for individual problem sites.
Lancaster Square and the vacant Bulova building, together in the 100 block of North Queen Street, stand out as a project site listed in the LDR plan which has still not been redeveloped.
A $10 million entertainment center was proposed for the site late last year in the city’s application for the state’s new City Revitalization & Improvement Zone program.
Lancaster was accepted as one of the first two cities for the program, which uses state tax revenue generated in the designated redevelopment area to spur projects.
The implications of the new CRIZ program will be considered as part of the new study, Smithgall said.
The consultant also will consider implications of the city’s 25-year plan to build green infrastructure to deal with stormwater run-off, census data, and city initiatives to promote public art and bicycle transportation.
Smithgall said the drive for a “community-owned” plan is intentional.
Organizers want to ensure the study is not tied to a particular mayor or City Council. A long-term plan should outlive different administrations in City Hall.
They were also intentional about seeking an outside consultant.
Marshall Snively, executive vice president of the Lancaster City Alliance, said they wanted a fresh set of eyes to view Lancaster.
They also wanted a consultant with experience working with similar-sized cities. A proposal request was sent to 10 consulting firms in January. Four were interviewed.
Mahan Rykiel has done work all over the country. The firm’s work in Greenville, South Carolina and Burlington, Vermont, was of particular interest to the steering committee because of the size of those cities, said Snively.
Mahan Rykiel will do the bulk of the study’s data collection this summer. The analysis will be done this fall and the report drafted during the winter and spring, Snively said.
The $180,000 study is funded by contributions from the Steinman Foundation, City of Lancaster, Lancaster County Community Foundation and about 25 other organizations, Snively said.