EDITORIAL: Getting creative with York City

York Dispatch

It's so easy to get caught up in the bad side of York City. The violence, the drug trade, high taxes, low test scores in the schools, parking problems, etc., etc.

But there is a good side too, and that's the side that the Greater Ohio Policy Center focused on in a new report, "Revitalizing America's Smaller Legacy Cities."

York was one of five midsize Pennsylvania cities and 24 cities in the country chosen for the in-depth look at how these legacy cities are dealing with the loss of industries and the population shift to suburbs.

And it turns out York is actually doing OK, according to the report.

York's leaders have taken the reins since the Great Recession began in 2007 and have turned the bones of the manufacturing past into a new, lively downtown area with a base of retail, offices and housing, the report said.

A #PopUpYork sign on a window at 1 North George Street in York City, Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Yes, there are still many vacant storefronts on the main streets. Yes, there are vacant houses. Yes, there are hulks of former factories that echo weirdly.

More:Report: York City can thrive again with right plans, leaders

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But there are also places such as the former Keystone Color Works building, built in 1873, which has been converted into high-end apartments, and the former Weinbrom Jewelers building, which now houses a new Isaac's restaurant, other retail stores and more living space.

It takes imagination, like the imagination shown by real estate developer Matt Steinkamp and Lara Bushey, his wife and business partner, who are converting the former Weaver Piano & Organ Co. on North Broad Street into a modern apartment building.

And it takes persistence, like the persistence shown by RSDC, formerly Royal Square Development Corp., which has taken the lead in turning many empty or decaying buildings into viable spaces where people can work, eat and live.

Revitalization is not a "zero-sum game," said Kevin Schreiber, president and CEO of the York County Economic Alliance.  

"We're building a city for our county," he said. "It's in our best interest as a county that we have a strong, vibrant and healthy city."

Color Works building gets set for residents

People from outside the area don't see York City separately from York County, York County Community Foundation President and CEO Jane Conover pointed out. York City, as the county seat and the most concentrated population area, is how the rest of the world sees us, even if we live in Springettsbury Township or Manchester Township or Dallastown.

There are more than 43,000 people living within York City's limits, but there are also 40,000 who live somewhere else but work in the city, Conover said. Those people will benefit from the economic redevelopment of the city as well.

So what can we do to keep the ball rolling and turn those negative points around?

It starts with creativity, with looking at empty buildings and seeing a store, a restaurant, a great place to live. 

And it takes the backing of people who don't live in the city, those 40,000 who spend days there but then go home. 

When you walk by some vacant spaces in York City, there are signs up: "I want to see _______ pop up here!" The signs urge people to use the hashtag #PopUpYork to let everyone know what could go into that space.

That's the kind of action that needs to happen: putting the minds of people from around the county to work on creatively rebuilding the city.

It's time to stop bashing York City and realize that, as the public face of York County, it deserves and needs help recovering from decades of suburban flight and the collapse of the manufacturing base.

The bones of the city are there. It's time to help rebuild the muscle.