City of Lancaster’s $760,000 ‘Park’ the Size of a Basketball Court Delayed; LNP is Deeply Concerned
Lancaster-blog is all in favor of more parks and greenspaces – the entire, brutalist-style former St. Joseph Hospital should be torn down and replaced with a park – but the small, unfinished park at West Lemon and North Market streets is a case study in government waste.
LNP just checked in on when the park in question will open – it’s November now – was once the site of three row homes at 31-35 W. Lemon Street.
The site is owned by the Lancaster city redevelopment authority, which bought two of the row homes in 2014 and used eminent domain in 2016 to acquire the third before razing all three, according to the local daily newspaper.
But here’s the problem – the thing is about the size of a basketball court, but the whole thing has cost $760,000 in public money.
This is a site that will benefit almost no one, but costs more than three-quarters of a million dollars.
The LNP says that the city redevelopment authority “is covering the costs with money from repayments on loans the authority extended — using state grant funds — to help build the Lancaster Marriott at Penn Square. Additional funds come from loan repayments from the Press Building project.”
So it does, in a way, benefit the owners of the LNP and the crony convention center project – the whole story you can read about in this book – “Pressed: Public Money, Private Profit: A Cautionary Tale.”
Here’s a description of the book:
A former Lancaster County Commissioner, Dr. (Molly) Henderson’s book tells the story of the development, building, and financing of the Lancaster County Convention Center and Marriott Hotel in downtown Lancaster. The highly controversial “convention center project,” as it was known to those in Lancaster County (pop. 510,000), was originally proposed in 1999 as a $75 million “public-private” partnership. The project would include a publicly-owned convention center ($30 million) and a privately-owned hotel ($45 million).
By the time the convention center and hotel opened in 2009, the project’s cost had ballooned to more than $170 million, with more than 90% of the total cost of both the convention center and hotel borne by Pennsylvania taxpayers. At the time of publication of Pressed, the private sponsors of the project — the county’s biggest industrialist and monopoly newspaper — proposed, and had approved, another $25 million in additional public funds for the project. This makes it the most expensive capital project in Lancaster County history.
The private owners of the hotel, because of close relationships with local and state lawmakers and officials, were also able to avoid paying property taxes on their Marriott Hotel, located on the site of a former national historic landmark building. That building, the Watt & Shand department store building (1895), was demolished to build the 300-room Marriott hotel. Several historical buildings, including the former home and business of Thaddeus Stevens, the great Civil War-era Congressman, were destroyed or partially torn-down in the development of the hotel-convention center project.
The Watt & Shand was removed from the National Register of Historic Places as a result the developers’ demolition of everything except part of the façade. Pressed tells the story of how the convention center and hotel went from $75 million to nearly $200 million, and how the cost of building the project shifted from a private-public split, to the public paying for almost the entire thing. The story is told from the vantage of someone, Commissioner Molly Henderson, who was there, as a sitting commissioner, who tried to stop the ill-conceived, risk-heavy, taxpayer-funded project before it was built.Henderson paid a price for her opposition.
So that’s nearly a million dollars, all benefitting the same crony capitalist developers and project that already cost taxpayers more than $200 million.
That wasn’t included in the LNP story today.