State helps to fund $23 million Lancaster convention center

LANCASTER -- This city received $15 million in capital budget redevelopment assistance funds from the state to help finance the construction of a convention center.

The convention center, to be built adjacent to the historic Watt & Shand building on South Queen Street, will rejuvenate Lancaster's downtown business district, officials said.

Along with a plan to convert the Watt & Shand site into a mixed-use hotel and retail complex, the new project is expected to generate 1,000 new jobs. "Lancaster County is one of Pennsylvania's strongest tour-ist magnets," said Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge.

Although Lancaster County attracts more than 5 million visitors each year, many of them don't venture into downtown Lancaster, the governor said.

A convention center "will draw those tourists, and the money they spend, right into the heart of the Red Rose City," the governor said.

According to a recent economic impact report, tourism in Lancaster County pumped more than $1.2 billion into the local economy in 1998. In addition, the report showed the county's tourism industry supported more than 18,500 jobs.

A feasibility study conducted for the convention center and hotel project estimated they would bring in 200,000 visitors to the city each year, primarily through conventions.

The design of the convention center and hotel are in keeping with the city's historic character, a major drawing card for tourists. "One of the most exciting features of this project is that it preserves and enhances the historic landmarks and alleys" of downtown Lancaster, Ridge said.

Penn Square Partners, a consortium consisting of a bank, a real estate firm and a newspaper publisher, will convert the Watt & Shand building into a $45 million, 281-room hotel that will afford up to 17,200 square feet of retail space.

The 61,000-square-foot, $23 million convention center is slated to be built next to the hotel and will be financed through bonds and the $15 million state grant.

Construction of the convention center is to begin soon, with a projected opening in January 2001. The convention center and hotel complex is intended to be the cornerstone of a massive downtown revitalization program.

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