EDITORIAL: Rebuild trust in Yorktowne Hotel project
The York County Industrial Development Authority has a growing trust problem. And that's bad news for a quasi-governmental agency that's asking people to come calling with checkbooks in hand.
YCIDA's yearslong rehab of the Yorktowne Hotel was once a $20 million overhaul of the historic York City landmark, according to a state grant application and public statements made by those involved. Now it's expected to cost $40 million, say agency officials.
Copious amounts of lead and asbestos played a part in the cost explosion. A revised business plan, which required the renovation of two additional floors, boosted the cost, too, while actually sucking projected revenues in the process.
We get it — these things happen, especially when a 90-year-old hotel with more than 100 rooms is involved.
But the public's trust is what could help dig YCIDA out of its financial hole. After months of closed-door meetings and misrepresentations, whether intentional or not, YCIDA board members haven't exactly inspired confidence.
The project is $7 million short, officials now say. And they're asking local residents to reach into their pockets and make up the difference.
It's apparent the ballooning price tag has been known by YCIDA officials for years. The asbestos was reported to the state Department of Environmental Protection in 2017. The need to rehab Yorktowne's uppermost floors, in order to snag a premium hotel brand, too, has been known for some time.
Instead of spelling out these facts as they became known, the authority appears to have abused Pennsylvania's Open Meeting Law, its board scurrying into executive session at least 11 times since January 2018.
Public confidence is the birth mother of transparency laws born in Watergate's wake. Open meeting and Right-to-Know laws are the very foundation for any government that has any interest in accountability.
However, over the past 15 months, YCIDA's board seems to have been more interested in a faulty public relations campaign than an honest conversation about the future of downtown York City.
The subterfuge could only last so long. Eventually, the details would come out. And then what?
Thing is, the Yorktowne rehab is, in and of itself, a laudable project. Its aim to bolster an already growing downtown with a high-end anchor hotel is — from a long-term view — worthy of support.
All of York stands to benefit from a booming city core that's generating revenue from tourists, business travelers and locals alike.
Instead of making that pitch, though, YCIDA officials opted to keep the taxpayer in the dark as they spent public cash. They decided that a short-term public relations problem superseded long-term confidence.
Perhaps YCIDA officials assume a handful of plugged-in, moneyed benefactors will bail them out. Maybe they wrongly assume that the rank-and-file taxpayer doesn't merit an honest, transparent account for how their money is spent.
What's obvious at this point is that YCIDA's board, for whatever reason, decided cloaking the details of a potentially transformative project was preferable to an honest discussion with the very people asked to help foot the bill.
As a result, a project that should be viewed as a boon begins to look like a boondoggle.