York City committed to long-term Penn Market revamp

Jason Addy
York Dispatch

Days after the York City Redevelopment Authority announced its takeover of Penn Market, city officials pledged their long-term support to revive the foundering market.

The city authority took over the deed to Penn Market in June, and officials are now planning a series of fact-finding missions and structural improvements to restore the market to its glory days.

Shilvosky Buffaloe, who oversees the York City Redevelopment Authority in his role as interim director of the city's department of community and economic development, speaks during a news conference at Penn Market announcing planned improvements to the market Friday, July 7, 2017. The RDA took ownership of the building several weeks ago. Bill Kalina photo

Revamping Penn Market will require a multiyear, multimillion-dollar commitment, said Shilvosky Buffaloe, acting director of community and economic development for the city. 

More:Penn Market looking for new direction under RDA

Buffaloe said the authority is partnering with staff at The Food Trust, based in Philadelphia, who will spend the next year investigating the market to determine its challenges and problem areas and to identify potential opportunities for improvement.

The project could cost anywhere from $1 million for baseline improvements to $5 million for “the Cadillac version” of upgrades, though Buffaloe questioned the logic of spending that much on this project. 

The “sweet spot” for the project’s budget is likely between $2.5 million and $3 million, Buffaloe said.

No matter the final outlay, Buffaloe said the city will not be breaking out its checkbook for Penn Market.

“I don’t see us actually being able to fund any of this through the city’s general fund,” Buffaloe said, noting officials will be exploring state and federal funding avenues to secure money for the project.

‘Patron saint’: The Redevelopment Authority took over the market’s deed to ensure the preservation of a community asset, Buffaloe said, likening the authority’s role to being the St. Jude of struggling properties in the city.

Taking over Penn Market comes with a large burden of responsibility and heavy weight of anticipation, but the market “is too important to wither on the proverbial vine,” Buffaloe said.

Built 151 years ago, the market’s facilities are “woefully outdated,” and there likely hasn’t been any substantial investment in the market in the last 50 years, Buffaloe said.

More:City RDA takes deed for Penn Market

When the York City Redevelopment Authority temporarily took over Penn Market’s lease in October, officials identified several problem areas, including the building’s exterior, windows, doors, bathrooms, fire-suppression systems and plumbing.

Along with The Food Trust, officials will first identify what needs work before beginning renovations. The future plans for the market  remain unknown until those investigations and walk-throughs are completed. 

Officials are looking at how farmers markets are run in Harrisburg and Lancaster, trying to find the right option for York City, Buffaloe said. 

“There are so many hybrids, so we’re looking for the solution for here,” Buffaloe said. “Whatever that solution is that makes the best fit for York’s scenario and York’s variables, I’m more than willing to entertain it.”

‘Coopetition’: Buffaloe said city officials and Penn Market representatives will consult with their counterparts at Central Market “in the spirit of 'coopetition'” — bringing competitors together to benefit the community. 

Nikki Uy, a senior associate at The Food Trust, said the collaboration between the markets will help determine how the two markets can best complement each other while ensuring each market will have a distinct identity.

The Food Trust is conducting interviews with Penn Market vendors, business owners and local leaders to determine the market’s direction, Uy said.

But residents’ input is just as important to the revitalization process, with Penn Market sitting at the intersection of several neighborhoods and serving as a community gathering center, Uy said. 

The Food Trust soon will begin reaching out to residents near the market to hear their ideas and concerns, Uy said. 

Uy said she and her colleagues are eager to help save Penn Market after playing a part in Central Market’s turnaround a decade ago.

“Having been involved in the Central Market project about 10 years ago, it’s really exciting to be back in York,” Uy said.

Market nostalgia: At a news conference Friday marking the RDA’s acquisition of the property, Redevelopment Authority Chairman Michael Black said he is proud to be part of the project to restore the market as a cornerstone and “vibrant” shopping destination of the WeCo neighborhood.

York City Mayor Kim Bracey called Penn Market an “institution of economy” that provides a “stable platform” for many city businesses and residents.

The market’s role as a community center is essential to neighborhoods in the west end of the city, Bracey said.

The mayor has spoken about putting an emphasis on providing children in the city with secure places to play and spend time, and a revitalized Penn Market would represent another “third place” — after home and school — for kids to stay safe and keep out of trouble, Bracey said. 

Though the RDA is investing in Penn Market with the hopes of re-establishing it as a community anchor, it’s clear many of those involved feel a sense of nostalgia about the process.

“This is the market I came to love as a child. This was my market,” Bracey said.