‘Innovation District’ planned for York City Northwest Triangle

Jason Addy
York Dispatch

Inspired by York’s World War II-winning manufacturing contributions, York Exponential founder John McElligott is trying to launch another wave of industrial innovation — this time building robots instead of tanks — in York City’s Northwest Triangle.

Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects released multiple renderings and building plans Wednesday, Aug. 30, of the building McElligott hopes will be the epicenter of the robotics revolution in York City and beyond.

This Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects rendering shows the building York Exponential founder John McElligott hopes will be the epicenter of a robotics revolution in downtown York City.

Architect Frank Dittenhafer’s renderings envision a fully modern business-and-industry center situated on a 2-acre lot in the tract of land enclosed by North Beaver Street, West Gay Avenue and Codorus Creek.

5-phase project: The building at the center of McElligott’s planned “Innovation District” will be constructed in five phases in order to work around the site’s trapezoidal shape, according to the building plans.

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Once all five phases of the construction project are completed, the building will have 240,000 square feet of space for “alternative manufacturing,” robotics research, laboratories and prototyping, as well as office space, temporary housing and underground parking, according to the plans.

The building is three stories high in most places but reaches up to five stories tall in others, providing a scenic overlook of York City and its outskirts. 

The renderings show that portion of the building will arch over West North Street, as city officials are planning to extend the street to meet Pershing Avenue on the site of the proposed robotics center.

“We embraced the reality of the site parameters — what were previously limitations to other people — and came up with a very creative, dynamic, flexible approach to building,” Dittenhafer said in the release.

Exclusive option: McElligott has entered an agreement with the York City Redevelopment Authority for an exclusive option on the tract where the proposed building would sit.

McElligott said he and his partners have until August 2018 to submit a bid for the tract, though he hopes to complete a deal in the first three months of next year.

Though it will take some time to complete all five construction phases, McElligott said developers and other project partners will try to "aggressively" tackle the first few phases in 2018.

The five-story tower will be the last phase of the project, McElligott said.

With Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects also designing an apartment building on the adjacent 2-acre empty lot along West Gay Avenue and North Beaver Street, Dittenhafer and McElligott are expecting complete synergy in the city’s Northwest Triangle once construction is finished.

Baltimore-based developer The Time Group was granted the rights to the adjacent lot in May 2016, and the company plans to construct four buildings, with a total of 130 market-rate apartments.

York Plan 2.0: McElligott said the inspiration for his robotics-fueled “York Plan 2.0” came after learning about the original York Plan, which was used to mobilize local manufacturers to help in World War II.

After reading the York Plan mural outside the McDonald’s on South George Street, McElligott said, he started to flesh out his new plan to bring business leaders together behind robotics manufacturing and coding.

McElligott — who also serves as CEO of the Fortress Academy robotics programming and coding school — is hoping to boost some of the newfound energy in York for a robotics revolution by harnessing the attention of AOL founder Steve Case, who is set to visit the city in October for his Rise of the Rest competition.

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Rise of the Rest is a nationwide effort to find businesses and ideas outside main innovation hubs in major cities. Case will hear business proposals from 80 groups in the York-Harrisburg-Lancaster region on Oct. 10, when one group will win an investment of $100,000.

Kevin Schreiber, president and CEO of the York County Economic Alliance, said he sees McElligott’s plans for an innovation district as the “natural evolution” for York’s storied manufacturing legacy.

“We really are at the point in this community where momentum is taking over,” Schreiber said in the release. “We should be incredibly proud. There’s going to be a lot of eyes looking at us.”