York, Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania | 1998 Great American Main Street Award® Winner | Posted: 5/15/1998

York (pop. 45,835) flourished after World War II, however, between 1969 and 1978 a series of events threatened this historic downtown. In 1969, race riots in inner-city neighborhoods just blocks from the town square, Continental Square, shook the community at its core. Then Hurricane Agnes brought a flood that destroyed much of the west side in 1974 and, finally, in 1978 the last of the four major downtown department stores closed.

Despite the negative impact these events had on the physical and psychological health of downtown, Yorkers responded with a determination to rebuild and find a new role for downtown. Citizens held a series of charettes, forming alliances needed to rebuild York. Public and private funds in excess of $6 million were generated for a new flood channel and park along the banks of the Codorus Creek, as well as for a series of streetscape improvements. Gutted townhouses provided the shells for the successful "Back-to-the-City" residential homesteading program.

An emphasis on the importance of historic preservation lead to York's nationally-recognized facade easement program. Over $1 million in private funds were matched by $l million in public funds to restore the historic facades of virtually every building in York's central business district. The formation of a Historic Architectural Review Board bolstered this ongoing effort. Numerous examples of public-private partnerships have resulted in the preservation and reuse of major downtown buildings. The most recent example is York Federal Savings & Loan's construction of a new 40,000 square foot office building behind six historic facades, which were physically separated from their previous buildings and restored as the facade for the new $3 million office building. Public and private funds allowed for the restoration of the historic Strand-Capitol Theater complex, converted three of the four abandoned department stores into commercial space and apartments, and built three major office buildings downtown.

The west side of downtown is home to restaurants and retailers, ranging from fine clothing and jewelry to antiques and collectibles. Service providers, such as a quick-print shop and camera store, are found throughout downtown. Central Market, a farmers market in continuous operation for more than 109 years, is a critical retail anchor just one block from Continental Square. Almost 90 percent of downtown buildings are occupied.

Since 1980, approximately $10 million in public investment has leveraged $40 million in private investment downtown. In 1981, at least seven major buildings were vacant and in serious decline, totaling 470,000 square feet of commercial space that could be generating income. Today, every one of these buildings is in productive use. The assessed value of these buildings has increased from $189,600 to almost $20 million in 1997. Virtually every bank, broker, and accountant in the county operates from downtown. The only Class A office space in York County is located in downtown York. The central business district hosts federal, state, county, and city offices, along with a number of internationally-known corporate headquarters.