The homegrown, humble king of York City's downtown revitalization - Part 1


Walking up and down Duke Street in downtown York, Josh Hankey can hardly contain the excitement brimming from his clean-shaven face as he points out each property either successfully renovated or well on its way with a distinct vision in mind.

Wearing a brightly colored Hawaiian shirt and jeans because he's planning on walking through construction areas on this day, the usually suited-up Hankey, 37, doesn't often reflect on his company's successes, because there's no time. Not with so much of the city still just sitting there, waiting to be revitalized.

As president and CEO of Royal Square Development and Construction, Hankey is a huge part of a renaissance in a downtown that lately seems to have some major announcement or new business opening daily.

"It's really wonderful now to be able to see the fruits of our labor these last five years really coming to fruition," Hankey said, sitting in his office at The Union, a co-working space at 110 S. Queen St. that his company unveiled a month earlier. "Really, on the heels of this success, we started thinking about what's next, and it's so obvious that (West) Market Street is the big problem."

Coming up: Before The Union or The Bond, its adjacent wedding and events venue, had even announced opening dates, Hankey had already started strategically buying up real estate on the troubled street. Now with five properties on West Market Street, his attention has turned toward creating a mix of residential, retail and restaurant development within the huge, recently unused buildings.

"We're taking on some challenging projects," said Dylan Bauer, Royal Square's vice president of real estate development and one of two main partners with Hankey. "The spaces that have been there have been there for a long time."

Credibility: But no one close to him believes this or any project will prove too difficult for Hankey. Sonia Huntzinger, executive director of Downtown Inc, believes Hankey has earned that belief by establishing credibility throughout York City.

"He started with one or two properties and grew and expanded," Huntzinger said. "He's proven trustworthy, that he can get jobs done, that he can build a profitable company."

In all — between Royal Square and other smaller entities of which Hankey is majority partner — he can currently lay claim to about 55 downtown properties. He's optimistic about the future of York becoming a "vibrant urban space" and his role in that transformation.

Red Lion roots: From a strictly distance perspective, Hankey hasn't come too far since growing up in Red Lion with his parents, Lee and JoAnn, and sister, Amanda. But his feelings about downtown York couldn't be further from those he had when he was young.

Often visiting his grandparents downtown, Josh Hankey remembers thinking two things about the area: the architecture is amazing, and there's nothing here.

"I remember having a negative feeling about it, thinking, 'Why do my grandparents even live here?'" he said.

After graduating from Red Lion Area Senior High School, Josh Hankey said moving to York City wasn't even a consideration. Neither was college for the admittedly unmotivated kid.

Lee Hankey disagrees with his son's characterization of himself, recalling Josh's teenage dreams of starting a lawn-mowing business and his affinity for a Monopoly-like game called Trump.

"He was a dreamer and liked to dress in nice clothes and think of himself as someday being a successful person," said Lee Hankey, who still lives with JoAnn in the house where their children grew up. "I don't know that he knew how he was going to get there."

— Coming Thursday: Josh Hankey makes a life decision that leads to newfound confidence and motivation.