The homegrown, humble king of York City's downtown revitalization - Part 3
Alexandra Dwyer had left York when she was 17 to pursue internships and jobs in the music and magazine industries, but three years later she was forced to move back and not too happy about it.
Not wanting to move in with her mom or grandma, she and three other friends were invited to live at 116 E. King St. The current tenant, a friend of Dwyer's, said he needed some help paying the rent. As it turned out, the help was coming a little too late.
"We moved in and immediately realized the electric, water and gas were off," Dwyer said, but the women continued unpacking, undeterred.
Not long after the unpacking had commenced, a man Dwyer described as a "huge, fat Italian Catholic, 'Soprano'-looking guy" busted through the front door, yelling at the women to get out because they hadn't paid rent for three months. Obviously startled, Dwyer and her friends explained to the man that they had money and were just moving in.
"He went from really tough to really nice very quickly," she recalled. "He goes outside, calls the owner, comes back in and said the owner wanted to meet with us."
Twenty minutes later, Josh Hankey showed up, talked to the women for 10 minutes and pulled out a new lease for them to sign. In her youth, Dwyer didn't think much of the exchange and just figured Hankey could probably tell they were nice people. Looking back, she realizes how unlikely it is that any other landlord would've treated the situation so calmly.
Art show: With their housing situation now settled, Dwyer and her roommates — also frustrated with being back in York — realized there was nothing for them to do downtown. In particular, Dwyer noticed the lack of art galleries, at least ones that appealed to people her age. Three months later, Dwyer and her friends held an art show in their apartment, moving furniture outside to make room in case enough people showed up.
"It was totally nonchalant, but we cared enough about it, and it really came together and was an awesome night," she said.
Enough showed up, with nearly 400 cycling in and out of their East King Street apartment for that first show. One of those people was Hankey, whom Dwyer had invited last minute without really knowing if he'd be OK with them hosting an art show on his property.
Hankey, having seen the way artists can positively impact cities in Baltimore and Asheville, North Carolina, immediately saw how great the shows could be for the community.
"(Artists are) creative, not afraid to do something different, and they create an attraction," he said. "Then you start having affluent people come into the area to see the art, buy the art, and they want to rent an apartment, and it builds that economy."
With Hankey's blessing and some financial help, Dwyer and her roommates continued having art shows at their apartment. Soon, Dwyer decided to turn the gallery into a nonprofit organization, The Parliament, and offered Hankey the treasurer position, which he accepted.
Partners and friends: As the two talked more and more — mostly when Hankey would visit bars where Dwyer was bartending — they realized they were a "perfect match," according to Dwyer, with Hankey handling the real estate and construction side of things and Dwyer understanding how to get millennials interested in moving and staying downtown.
"We both had the same mentality, and still do, where it's go big or go home," she said. "We weren't afraid to think like that, and I feel like, in this small Dutch town, that's not really a normal thing."
Eventually becoming partners under the Royal Square name, Dwyer and Hankey expanded their reach onto Duke Street, where Dwyer, now vice president of retail development, headed up the openings of Redeux Marketplace and 56 Urban Provisions.
Aside from their professional successes, Dwyer and Hankey have found success in forming a lasting friendship, as the duo has dinner together at least two nights each week.
"We both have a crazy personality, and we don't hide that from anybody," Dwyer said, her flower tattoo peeking out from under her rolled-up denim shirt sleeve. "Before I met him, I was afraid to really be that much of myself, especially in a small town like this, but he's shown me there's a way to do what I believe in and get everyone to love and respect you."
Ultimately, Dwyer believes everyone in York is Hankey's friend.
"Josh has this magic balance — him just having ego out of it — of having everybody love him and not in this fake tabloid way," she said. "He's not (working to revitalize York) for himself; he's doing it for everyone else, and he's doing it the right way."
Shilvosky Buffaloe, the acting director of the city's economic and community development department, believes Hankey could prove to be a perfect case study for future small-town developers looking to revitalize a downtown area.
"He's on to something special," Buffaloe said. "The way he's gotten members of the community to buy into these projects and help out is definitely impressive."
Working for the future: Back in his office, Hankey scratches his head pondering the question of what he likes to do outside of work. "There's another part of life outside of work?" he finally asks, jokingly, before listing off activities including hiking, listening to music and spending time with family — none of which he has enough time for with his 60- or 70-hour work weeks. But he does it because he loves it.
"I think when we started, we didn't really know how fast things could really change and also how good it could really be," Hankey said, glancing across the room at a board full of construction drawings. "They are reaching beyond what we even thought probably was possible.
"I feel like I can see it be even better than what I (originally) imagined."