Randy Patterson at Lancaster Square

Randy Patterson, Lancaster city director of economic development and neighborhood revitalization, stands on the north side of Lancaster Square overlooking the 101NQ project on Friday, June 14, 2019. 

Rick Gray is rarely at a loss for words.

But when speaking of Randy Patterson, the former mayor said: “I can’t think of a superlative that expresses what an excellent job he did.”

Patterson, 65, is retiring today as Lancaster’s director of economic development and neighborhood revitalization, the position he has held since 2006.

“The tremendous growth of the city during his tenure is a testament to Randy’s leadership and expertise,” said Marshall Snively, president of the Lancaster City Alliance.

Lisa Riggs, president of the Economic Development Company of Lancaster County, praised Patterson’s steady and quiet leadership, “driven by his strong affection for this community.”

“Randy embodies what it means to be a public servant,” Mayor Danene Sorace said. “He is trustworthy, works for the common good and is dedicated beyond measure.”

Affordable housing, and a stadium

Patterson has spent his entire professional career in public service.

Raised in York County, he moved with his family to Lancaster County in 1969 and graduated from Conestoga Valley High School in 1972.

He entered Juniata College with plans of becoming a veterinarian, but shifted gears to major in urban affairs and political science, graduating in 1976.

He joined the Lancaster County redevelopment and housing authorities in 1977. He became deputy executive director in 1994, the same year he earned a master’s degree from Penn State. He became executive director in 1999.

Much of his work dealt with affordable housing.

He said he’s always remembered one hearing in particular, involving a proposal for low-income housing that had sparked fierce community opposition.

As LNP reported at the time, a string of neighbors complained the project would bring in “riff-raff.” Then, Patterson said, a young woman stood up. The neighbors were referring to people like her, she said: “I’m one of ‘those people.’ ”

Her action “stuck with me all those years and still does,” he said. “I saw it as my responsibility to act for that voice.”

His last project for the county authority was Clipper Magazine Stadium, which opened in 2005. It was not the norm for the authority to act as a project developer, so it was a “huge step,” Patterson said.

Joining Gray’s team

In 2006, when Gray took office, he was eager to get Patterson on board.

Although he would be doing more work and taking a pay cut, Patterson agreed to join Gray’s administration. He said he was excited about the challenges of working in an urban environment.

His job melded two roles that had been separate before: director of economic and community development and director of housing and neighborhood development.

Patterson oversaw numerous revitalization projects — some new, others continued from the previous administration of Mayor Charlie Smithgall.

The Lancaster County Convention Center and the adjacent Lancaster Marriott at Penn Square. The northwest gateway, now home to the Lancaster Behavioral Health Hospital and Franklin & Marshall College facilities.

The conversion of the Lancaster Stockyards into an office park. The Lancaster Press Building redevelopment. The Queen Street transit station. And many more.

Concurrently, Patterson improved his department’s efficiency and customer service, Gray said. He implemented the city’s rental inspection program and was instrumental in both the creation and the implementation of the City Revitalization & Improvement Zone program, or CRIZ.

Historically, his position has had the second-highest budgeted salary at City Hall, behind the director of public works, a post that has been vacant since last fall. Were he to stay through December, his salary this year would be just over $143,000.

Lancaster Square

Capping Patterson’s work is the transformation of Lancaster Square.

Patterson remembers attending the square’s dedication in 1971, as a high school junior.

“I thought it was a great project at the time,” he said.

The complex had been intended to help downtown Lancaster combat the lure of the suburbs. But its flaws soon became apparent, and it has come to be regarded as a major blunder.

Its reconstruction relies on a complex mix of public and private entities and funding, with Patterson at the center.

Developer John Meeder, who is wrapping up the renovation of the freshly rebranded Holiday Inn on the square’s north side, has dealt with Patterson on a variety of projects. Meeder praised Patterson’s approach, saying it has helped spur development for the good of the city.

Collaborative approach

For his part, Patterson is quick to insist on sharing credit: Lancaster’s progress, he said, has been accomplished by many people working together. He sees his role as a “facilitator,” he said.

He praised the downtown’s “dedicated and committed” business owners, such as Steve Murray, the “hippie entrepreneur” who died in March. The city owes a lot to Murray and his conviction that local retail could build a vibrant downtown, Patterson said.

Some critics contend Lancaster has offered overly generous incentives to developers on Patterson’s watch, and has focused too much on downtown at the expense of helping Lancaster’s poorer neighborhoods, particularly on the south side.

The same debate takes place in every city, he said: “I look at what’s been done and say, it was worth it.”

Without subsidies, construction costs in a city like Lancaster can easily exceed the potential return on investment. You can’t expect a private-sector developer not to make a profit, Patterson said: The challenge is finding the appropriate balance.

The CRIZ, for example, leverages multiple times its value in private investment. Without it and federal new markets tax credits, he said, the Lancaster Square project wouldn’t be happening.

And Patterson disputes the notion that Lancaster’s neighborhoods have been forgotten, pointing to projects such as Conestoga Plaza, the business park around South Water Street created through the Keystone Opportunity Zone, Tec Centro and Urban Place.

What the future holds

Patterson will be succeeded by Chris Delfs, who starts July 8. The department has been renamed Community Planning and Economic Development.

Patterson plans to take some time off. He and his wife, Phyllis, live in East Lampeter Township. They have an adult son who lives in Mount Joy.

He’ll return to assist with his successor’s transition and will continue as acting executive director of the CRIZ authority.