The block bordered by Queen, King, Princess and Duke streets is as old as the city built around it.

Only recently, however, has the name Royal Square emerged on planning documents as the new brand for a neighborhood blighted by dilapidated buildings and a longtime nuisance bar.

This is where a man named Josh Hankey wants to kickstart a York City transformation.

After years of real-estate negotiations and sales, Hankey and his partners are making public their plans for Royal Square.

For about two years, Hankey, 34, has been working closely with the city's Redevelopment Authority, which a few weeks ago cleared a huge hurdle for the Royal Square project by purchasing Allison's Bar at 105 S. Duke St. for about $175,000.

Six months earlier, for $150,000, the RDA bought the former Bond Sanitary Products Inc. property at 134 E. King St. An "arts-related" use, possibly developed by the nearby nonprofit Parliament group, is planned for the 45,000-square-foot building.

Both purchases were made with money from an anonymous donor.

Also involved is the York YWCA, which helped organize the Olde Towne East neighborhood association in 2001 and developed a comprehensive plan for the area, leading to its designation in 2004 as Pennsylvania's first Elm Street neighborhood. The designation opened the door to millions of dollars in funding.

Tax credit: The team is preparing to apply for a tax-credit program through the state Department of Community and Economic Development that could annually funnel as much as $250,000 into the block for property renovations and streetscape improvements.

An answer from the state is expected over the summer, said Kevin Schreiber, the city's economic and community development director.

"If we're successful in the funding, Allison's would be the first building slated for improvement," Schreiber said.

Josh Hankey, owner of Susquehanna Renovations, has a vision to improve the area in York City now known as Royal Square.
Josh Hankey, owner of Susquehanna Renovations, has a vision to improve the area in York City now known as Royal Square. (Randy Flaum photo)

Eventually, the RDA would want to sell the former bar, the Bond building and other properties it's bought in the area to a private owner, Schreiber said.

And all the while the RDA has been scarfing up properties, so has Hankey -- who may or may not be the future owner of some of the RDA's current holdings, Schreiber said.

The ultimate goal, Schreiber said, is to transform Royal Square into a safer, cleaner and more pedestrian-friendly neighborhood with higher property values

"This is already a rebounding neighborhood," he said.

Improvements: Improvements already under way can be traced back to 2008, when Hankey and his investment partners bought a property on East King Street. Susquehanna Renovations, one of Hankey's companies, now has its office on the block.

Hankey said he bought his first York City property in 2003. But it wasn't until years later that he saw potential and started scooping up properties on the block he later named Royal Square.

"It became obvious that we might be able to buy most of them and make a serious change here," Hankey said. "It was really an open book as far as what we could do here."

Hankey, a Red Lion native and Army veteran, said he envisions Royal Square as a mixed-use neighborhood with homes and galleries for artists and restaurants and bars that attract a professional crowd.

Some of that's already begun.

The Parliament, a local group that promotes York's art and music scene, formed in a house Hankey owns at 116 E. King St. It's now a full-time art studio and gallery that displays local artwork.

In just the past six months, two other art groups have created studio and exhibit space in the buildings next door. Hankey owns those too.

It's all part of his plan to transform Royal Square one building at a time.

"Artists tend to improve their community," he said.

-- Erin James may also be reached at ejames@yorkdispatch.com.