Fiber-optic project transforming York City neighborhood
United Fiber and Data has purchased the former York County Prison and plans to incorporate the long-vacant, fortress-like structure into a data center to accompany a 400-mile fiber-optic network it's building between New York and Virginia.
The data company will renovate York Street, running in front of its office at 210 York St. and the nearby prison, revamping the area into a data hub that CEO and founder Bill Hynes said will create jobs and attract new businesses.
Ground will be broken on the prison improvements in 2019, Hynes said.
The network project has 40 miles remaining and is set to be completed by the end of the year, said chief operating officer Chris Lodge.
The network aims to connect the financial epicenter of the world, New York City, with the data capitol of the world, Ashburn, Virginia — which sees 70 percent of all internet traffic.
Most data travels down one path, setting companies up for singular points of failure, Hynes said. Even companies with backups can run into issues because they're typically buying from two data companies using the same pathway, he added.
"Our line is geographically diverse from all others," Hynes said. "Instead of taking just the south route, we go west and then we go south."
The 400-mile network runs through six southcentral Pennsylvania counties, including York.
Data center: In addition to wanting data transmitted securely and efficiently, companies typically want their data to be backed up, Hynes said.
Having a data center allows United Fiber and Data to seamlessly back up data and have it available to companies whenever needed, he said.
A certain amount of space is needed to construct a data center, in order to have a security barrier and buffer, according to Hynes.
Initially, Hynes said he thought he would have to build the data center in a rural portion of the county.
"But what does that do for the City of York? It really does nothing," he said.
When he explained the requirements to create a data center to city officials in 2012, then-Economic Development Director Kevin Schreiber and his assistant at the time, Shilvosky Buffaloe — now the acting department director — gave him the idea to place it in the city, believing it would create jobs and draw companies to York, Hynes said.
The city vacated York Street to allow United Fiber and Data to build the data center, he said.
About four weeks ago, United Fiber and Data also purchased the former county prison at 319 E. Chestnut St. Plans have been created over the past eight months, and the center should be complete in less than 24 months, Hynes said.
Third-party companies, including Met-Ed and the York Water Co., will be included as the process moves along, he said.
"We can't just tap into the electric, we literally need to build a new substation," Hynes said. "That's a pretty big undertaking."
The data center also will need more than 45 million gallons of water annually to provide cooling, which York Water Co. will provide, he said.
Soon, United Fiber and Data will apply for a demolition permit to begin revamping the old prison, he said.
"We say 'demo' for the prison, (but) it doesn't imply we're knocking it down," Hynes said. "It's really just to go inside and clean up the interior of the building and take out anything we don't need in there. We're not going to need jail cells."
Benefits to York: A data center in "its backyard" will attract more business to York and create new jobs, Hynes said.
The data network has already attracted one internet provider, WhyFly, to the area.
WhyFly recently announced they will offer service to Yorkers in 2019, giving residents an alternative to Comcast.
Hynes also said he's been in talks with the York County Economic Alliance to figure out a way to help provide low-income families with free internet connectivity.
"We believe internet is a right, just like oxygen and water," he said.
The ability to apply and search for jobs online can benefit low-income families in York, Hynes added.
"Our goal is to reverse economic inequalities," he said.