Royal Square ponders artist housing

Sean Philip Cotter
Royal Square Development and Construction last week bought the exclusive rights to look into several abandoned properties on East Princess and South Howard streets. John A. Pavoncello photo
  • Royal Square is considering "developing an artist-focused housing project."
  • It would involve cheap apartments that have amenities for artists.

In a few years, the Royal Square area in York City might have housing geared toward artists.

Royal Square Development & Construction last week bought the exclusive rights to look into several abandoned properties on East Princess and South Howard streets to this end, said Dylan Bauer, the company's vice president of development.

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The properties involved are 117-119, 121, 127, 129, 137 E. Princess St. and 146 and 148 S. Howard St. All are owned by the city's Redevelopment Authority, which owns many of the city's abandoned properties.

Bauer said it is still to be determined how this will work. He said a couple of the buildings are in very rough shape, so it's unclear how much of a potential project would be renovation and how much would be new construction.

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He said the idea would be for the buildings to have cheap apartments with "certain amenities catered to artists." He said that might include space for galleries and for seminars.

Royal Square is looking into this in partnership with a Maryland-based nonprofit organization. Bauer said Royal Square will announce that organization and more information about the project when the company gets further into its due diligence for the project and has more concrete plans.

He agreed the arts is one of the pillars upon which Royal Square has redeveloped the neighborhood. The 100 block of East King Street, where that development first took hold, now contains three art galleries and an art supplies store. Over the last couple of years, new stores have opened around the corner on South Duke Street.

And now the company, which also has projects underway in other parts of town, has turned its eyes around the corner again to the 100 block of East Princess, a third side of the city block that is considered Royal Square.

"The south side of Royal Square has always been important to us," he said. The square is bounded by King, Duke, Princess and Queen streets — hence the name.

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Bauer said the company is at least two years away from breaking ground and three from finishing the housing — assuming the company decides to move ahead with the project, a decision it doesn't have to make anytime soon.

Royal Square paid $1,000 to buy what's called an option from the city's RDA. In this case, that means the company has 12 months to undertake due diligence and figure out what, if anything, it's going to do with the properties. The company can extend the option for another year if it needs to.

By the time the option is up, the company will have to buy it or walk away.

In 2014, the city in partnership with national nonprofit ArtSpace considered putting money toward artist housing, but it didn't pan out at that point.

As part of the due diligence, Royal Square is conducting market studies to make sure the housing would be economically viable — whether there's a demand for it. Bauer was optimistic, saying his company didn't pull the idea out of thin air.

"It’s worked in other cities before," he said.

— Reach Sean Cotter or on Twitter at@SPCotterYD.