The ongoing revitalization of Lancaster Square took a fresh leap forward Wednesday evening, with city officials and developers unveiling plans to the public to relocate the Lancaster Public Library there and build a movie theater.
The library would move from North Duke Street to the first two floors of an eight-story building that would replace the annex on the east side of the square.
A 300-space parking garage, accessed via North Duke Street, would take up the remaining floors. An enclosed pedestrian walkway would connect Lancaster Square to North Christian Street, which would be reopened on the block for pedestrian and bicycle traffic.
Penn Cinema owner Penn Ketchum is involved in discussions for the movie theater. It would have two screens with about 50 seats each.
The large concrete stair tower and deck along the south facade of the hotel would be demolished to make way for it. Its rooftop would serve as a hotel terrace.
Combined with the Hotel Lancaster on the north side of the square and 101NQ, the mixed-use project under construction on the south side at 101 N. Queen St., the result will be "a very active use" for the site, city director of economic development and neighborhood revitalization Randy Patterson said.
He cautioned that the plan is not a sure thing, but said: "we are ready to move."
In particular, the theater idea is at an early stage. If it doesn't work out, retail can go there instead, he said.
Mayor Danene Sorace said the library and plaza would complement each other well.
"Our library is critical to our community," she said.
The project was proposed by Meeder Development Corp. in conjunction with the library and Benchmark Construction.
Meeder Development is the company behind the Hotel Lancaster. Its president and vice president, John Meeder and Sam Wilsker, are the investors in Grant Street III, which owns the annex.
The garage will be about 112,300 square feet, said Ted Vedock of Hammel Associates Architects, who is designing the project.
The library's space will be comparable to what it has now. It will have about 40,500 square feet of finished space and another 3,000 square feet of unfinished storage and mechanical space, Vedock said.
The building would house public restrooms for the plaza, accessed from the pedestrian walkway.
The preliminary budget is $23 million, Patterson said. That covers the full cost of constructing the garage, including site acquisition, design, engineering and so on, but only the "shell space" for the library.
The library would pay for the remaining interior construction work, furnishings and so on.
Design and budgeting for that phase can't start until the overall building design moves further forward, library executive director Heather Sharpe said. Once the library has a price tag, it plans to launch a capital campaign, she said.
If things move ahead as planned, the annex would be demolished next spring. Construction of the building would take about a year.
The hope is to build the movie theater on about the same timeline, Patterson said. A budget figure for it was not disclosed.
The final step would be the renovation of the plaza itself. The preliminary designs introduced last month are being fleshed out, the details of which will be the subject of a public meeting Oct. 30.
The city owns the plaza, including the part where the theater would go, and would continue to do so.
Parking called essential
Overhaul of the hotel — which plans to rebrand as a Holiday Inn — and the conversion of the of the Bulova building into 101NQ have been under way for months. Together, the projects total around $50 million. Completion is expected next spring and fall, respectively.
Patterson said there will be enough parking at the Prince Street Garage to accommodate both developments while the new garage is built. But with all the other parking demands downtown, and more companies moving in, he said it's essential for the block to have its own parking.
Among the responses was the proposal for the library, Patterson said.
The city received two other proposals, Patterson said. They were residential and would have required significant subsidies. The city also received a letter expressing interest in a collaboration, but it did not provide project details.
Plans call for Benchmark to buy the annex property and build the library and garage, Patterson said. Benchmark would then sell to the Lancaster Parking Authority, which would operate the garage and lease the library its space.
The authority would incur debt, but the intent is to make the project revenue-neutral, Patterson said.
A portion of the debt service would come from the garage's revenue. The rest would come from the City Revitalization & Improvement Zone program.
Through the CRIZ, a city authority receives much of the state and local business taxes paid by commercial entities in a designated zone, which it can allocate to revitalization initiatives.
In this case, the authority will be asked to earmark CRIZ revenue from 101NQ and the hotel, Patterson said. That plus the parking revenue should cover the debt service, he said.
The hotel already receives a portion of the CRIZ revenue it generates for debt service associated with its purchase.
In coming days, the parking authority and CRIZ authority will be asked to take action on elements of the library/garage project that pertain to them, Patterson said.
Plenty of details still need to be finalized, he said, and projects have to go through the city's normal approval processes before they can begin.
LNP staff writer Tom Knapp contributed to this article.