Mason jars full of colorful dyes once filled this laboratory, the tour guide says, broken glass crunching beneath his feet.

They're gone now, but the giant paint-mixing vats that once inhabited this old York factory were something "straight out of a Dickens novel," Kevin Schreiber says. Nearby, the evidence still clings to the walls of what's come to be known as the Red Room.

"They got every ounce of equity out of this building," Schreiber, the city's economic development director, said, chuckling as men dressed in suits wandered buckled floors covered in pigeon feathers.

David Cross, chairman of the York Development Authority, talks with Tim Fulton prior to a tour through the Keystone Colorworks building on Wednesday.
David Cross, chairman of the York Development Authority, talks with Tim Fulton prior to a tour through the Keystone Colorworks building on Wednesday. Behind them is the Colorworks building. (Bil Bowden Photo)

There's little to salvage at the Keystone Colorworks building, where caution tape blocks visitors from venturing into its dingiest corners. Yet it is the cornerstone of a 5-acre piece of land at York's northwest end that, city officials hope, a creative developer will turn into an upscale neighborhood or downtown shopping destination -- or perhaps a little of both.

The "bones" of the structure are sound, the roof is new, and the former paint factory has been so thoroughly cleaned that environmental officials have cleared it for residential development, Schreiber said.

The 36,000-square-foot factory, which dates to the 1880s, stopped operating as Keystone Colorworks in 2006. A paintball-manufacturing company moved in for a short time afterward.

Twice this week, staff from the city's economic development department opened the building's doors to architects, engineers and businessmen who have until March 30 to submit a proposal. More than a dozen firms

have expressed interest so far.

On Wednesday, Andrew Cohen was one of about a dozen to tour the Keystone Colorworks building. The senior vice president of the Woda Group said the three floors would need to be gutted and all the systems replaced. But it's something that's done all the time with the help of federal historic tax credits, Cohen said.

Prospective developers take a tour of the Keystone Colorworks building in York City on Wednesday.
Prospective developers take a tour of the Keystone Colorworks building in York City on Wednesday. (Bil Bowden Photo)

Long project: This is the second time the city has embarked on the final phase of its Northwest Triangle redevelopment project, which began more than a decade ago and included the construction of Sovereign Bank Stadium. After years of land acquisition, infrastructure improvement and demolition projects, the area west of Beaver Street is ready for transformation.

The city's Redevelopment Authority is taking its obligation seriously as steward of this land, where they envision a mixed-use neighborhood adjacent to the city's business district, said David Cross, who chairs the authority.

"We've really tried to be very strategic, very clear about what we want to achieve with this site," he said in a presentation to prospective developers Wednesday. "We're not looking for development for development's sake."

The authority demonstrated that commitment last year by parting ways with Kinsley Construction over plans for the site. The company originally proposed 85 to 125 market-rate townhouses and condominiums but later tweaked the plan to include subsidized housing when the economy took a nosedive.

Cross said he believes the time is right for market-rate apartments once again.

But, if developers disagree, "we're of a position that we would just as soon wait."

-- Reach Erin James at 505-5439 or ejames@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter @ydcity.