Construction equipment blocked a stretch of sidewalk Thursday afternoon in downtown Lancaster, where workers in bright yellow vests and hardhats busied themselves behind a wire fence surrounding an adjacent dirt-and-gravel lot.
On that fence there hung a banner advertising the construction of a multimillion-dollar plaza on North Queen Street, which has been dubbed Ewell Plaza. That banner reads: “Coming in 2020.”
But based on new timelines, provided by project leaders, that previously planned opening date has been reduced to wishful thinking.
Construction delays, mostly a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, have pushed a realistic opening date for the plaza back to 2022, according to Larry Cohen, executive director at the Lancaster Parking Authority, which is spearheading the project.
Last week, Cohen said he has his fingers crossed that the project is now on track to move forward unimpeded, but he can’t help but be a little concerned, especially as the number of locals ill with the COVID-19 virus continues to rise.
“I worry about everything, just doing a construction project of this level of complexity,” he said.
And in addition to the timeline shift, the project’s price tag had jumped up by about $5 million — a result of bids coming in higher than expected, Cohen said.
All told, the project is expected to cost $33 million to $34 million instead of the original estimate of $29 million, he said. It’s an expense that Cohen said he hopes will largely be covered through the local City Revitalization & Improvement Zone assistance program.
The program is on track to provide about $1.5 million in annual revenue, officials said.
Cohen spoke about the changes late last week while discussing the project, which is being constructed on a lot once called Lancaster Square — a public space right next to the new LNP | LancasterOnline office at 101 N. Queen St.
There, the authority will build its new complex, which will include the 325-spot Christian Street Garage, space that will house the Lancaster Public Library and two retail storefronts, among other features.
“This is all one project,” he said, admitting it’s somewhat ambitious.
The library will not pay rent, but future retail tenants will pay market-rate leases, Cohen said. He said that it was “a little early” to talk about prospective retail tenants. Neither of the spaces had been leased.
According to Cohen, the library and garage project has been delayed by about seven months due to construction pauses brought by COVID-19, as well as “complexities at the site,” including terrain.
Cohen said the project was designed by Hammel Associates, and Benchmark Construction is overseeing ongoing construction at the plaza, which gets its name from Barney Ewell, a gold-medal-winning Olympic sprinter, who grew up in Lancaster, where he went to McCaskey High School.
At the earliest, construction could wrap up in the last quarter of 2021, Cohen said. Still, it’s unlikely that the individual components will be open before 2022, he said.
Following that project, Lancaster city officials will begin work on an adjacent outdoor, public plaza, which will include a public art display, according to city spokeswoman Amber Strazzo.
“The city is responsible for ownership and maintenance of the plaza,” said Matthew Metzler, Lancaster’s deputy director of public works.
Metzler said construction of the outdoor space — an estimated $2 million expense — now is on track to begin in late 2021, with a projected mid-2022 completion date. Realistically, it won’t be before July, he said.
“Our plaza project has pushed as a result of the schedule changes for the garage/library,” Metzler said.
That outside work will be completed by a separate contractor, who will be selected when the project goes out to bid next year, he said.
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