Downtown Inc aims to shine some light on Continental Square


Nearly three years ago, the York County Community Foundation and a local architect joined forces to dream a new future for York City's Continental Square.

There was talk of water jets, art films projected onto building facades and a glass pavilion marking the entrance to York's 85-year-old underground restrooms — in addition to slightly less sexy changes like new crosswalks, wayfinding signs and, possibly, updated traffic patterns.

But not much has happened since.

A different group has assumed responsibility for the Reclaim Continental Square project, as it's been dubbed.

Downtown Inc took the reins earlier this year.

Tim Fulton, the group's program coordinator, said Downtown Inc is approaching the project in bite-size chunks, "without having to bite off the whole apple at one time."

Lighting the square: Fulton said he is working with the project's original architect, Frank Dittenhafer, to develop a lighting plan for seven building facades on the square.

"I think this first step will serve to kind of give everybody the sense that Continental Square is the crossroads of York County," Fulton said. "We have some very significant and beautiful architecture that surrounds our square."

But a lighting plan is more complicated than hooking up some light bulbs and extension cords.

They're developing a conceptual plan that will estimate operating and maintenance costs.

"And then we can go to each building owner and get the approval," Fulton said.

Other questions Fulton must consider: "Who is going to operate this facade-lighting program? Who's going to flip the switch, if you will? And what are the hours of operation? Who replaces the light bulbs?"

As for art films and moving images projected onto buildings, Fulton said that remains a goal. One building, as opposed to several, will probably serve as the square's movie screen, he said.

Fulton said he's already got a few building owners on board.

If everything goes perfectly, the entire square could be lit up next fall, Fulton said.

But there could be challenges, especially as several of Continental Square's most iconic buildings are in a state of transition.

For sale: The seven-story building at 18 S. George St. is on the market for $1.5 million, for example.

A developer is likely to purchase the former Citizens Bank building at 1 N. George St. from the city's Redevelopment Authority. Derek Dilks has said he might convert the building into luxury apartments or condominiums as well as space for a restaurant and an area to display art.

Also for sale is the colonial-style building at 2 E. Market St., known as the Golden Swan Tavern. It's on the market for $550,000.

John Birkeland, a Realtor with ROCK Commercial, said the building likely dates to the early 1800s. Formerly home to Wells Fargo offices, the building remains suited for an office use, Birkeland said.

At some point in its history, the upper floors served as guest rooms or residences.

Even though the building was renovated in the 1980s for modern use, some reminders of the building's earlier history remain, Birkeland said.

"The guests used to write on the walls," he said. "Once you get up there, there's all these neat names of people that stayed in these rooms."

— Reach Erin James at