Royal Square breaks ground on broad West Market project

Sean Philip Cotter

The three buildings in the first block of West Market Street in York City, like many of their neighbors, have been empty for years. One was a cavernous nightclub, another once upon a time was a department store, the third an old jeweler.

But the plan is by the end of next year, they will be full of retailers on the ground floors and residents in high-end apartments that'll be called Revi Flats.

"The county's center of culture and attention will again reside on this block," said Josh Hankey, the president and CEO of Royal Square Development and Construction, the company behind the development.

Hankey was joined by York City officials and the heads of the local York County Community Foundation and the statewide Community First Fund in holding an official groundbreaking Thursday morning at the corner of South Beaver and West Market streets.

A rendering of Royal Square Development and Construction's plan for the south side of West Market Street.

He spoke about the three big buildings Royal Square owns on the block: what Hankey called the Zaikey's building, which in the 2000s held the Evolution nightclub and Bourbon Street Saloon at 25 W. Market St.; then there's the Woolworth building at 44 W. Market St.; and Weinbrom Jewelers at 54-56 W. Market St., the corner building in front of which he spoke.

From left to right, York County Community Foundation president and CEO Jane Conover, Royal Square president and CEO Josh Hankey, York Revolution president Eric Menzer, Community First Foundation CEO Daniel Betancourt and York City Council president Carol Hill-Evans pose for pictures before they take some "ceremonial" whacks at the wall during the groundbreaking ceremony inside the old Weinbrom Jewelers building Thursday at the corner of South Beaver and West Market streets.

Hankey said the plan is to turn these three properties into about 36 high-end apartments and 11 retail locations. There will be two restaurants, one at the corner in the former jeweler's store and the other in the old nightclub area.

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Royal Square plans to tear down the back two-thirds of the Woolworth building and turn it into a parking lot, Hankey said. He said they will add two floors onto the remaining part of the building, putting 21 apartments in above what will likely be several retailers.

On the Revi Flats website, there are several digital renderings of Hankey's vision. In the first image, the facade of the jeweler's building says "York Bistro" and the front of the now-taller Woolworth building advertises retailers inside. In between them, it still uses an old image of the Police Heritage Museum, but that's gone now by the hand of Royal Square itself, which has put in the BYOB, extended-hours Timeline Arcade, which officially opened earlier this month.

He and the others spoke in front of the jeweler's building with the arcade behind them before moving inside and taking a few "ceremonial" hacks at a wall with a sledgehammer.

Before they went inside, state Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, was one of the several local officials who spoke. He said this block "has been a bit of the albatross" — the abandoned spaces were so large that it'd been hard to make a dent in the blight.

Schreiber, who used to be the city's economic and community development director, cited what he said was an old urban-redevelopment adage.

"When you control the corner, you can control the block," he said.

He said he's confident there's demand for these apartments, which will likely range from about $800 to $1,400, he said. Actually, he thinks the lack of high-end housing downtown has held back growth; he said units Royal Square has opened up recently have quickly filled up. He also cited projects by other local developers, such as the the recently completed 29-apartment Keystone Color Works building and the 50-unit One MarketWay West building, also on the first block of West Market Street, which had no issue getting tenants.

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This project is funded in part by a $8.75 million tax credit from the Community First Fund, said Daniel Betancourt, CEO of that organization, which provides grants to fight blight.

Hankey said his company's construction work will take about 12 to 14 months, and then it'll take a few months on top of that for the commercial tenants to move in. So the restaurant tenants, which haven't been finalized yet, though Royal Square has received proposals and letters of intent, will likely be open by Christmas 2017, he said.

— Reach Sean Cotter or on Twitter at@SPCotterYD.

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