Monday, April 6, 2009

First Friday art displays

It was the first First Friday of Spring ‘09, and Downtown Lancaster was stirring with hints of the bustle to come in the warmer months ahead. At the Prince Street crosswalk near the Pennsylvania Academy of Music, a horse-mounted police officer had to direct the dense streams of artwalkers that concentrated along Gallery Row.

The evening’s weather was certainly a powerful draw, even if it did require a light jacket.

The City’s more eye-catching displays were found at the Infantree Gallery (21 N Prince, 4th floor), Metropolis (154 N Prince St), and the Lancaster Museum of Art (135 N Lime St). The Infantree displayed “Out There” an exhibit defined by muted colors and some ironic interactions between pop culture and wild nature.

A Strasburg resident and recent Tyler School of Art graduate commented that the art in galleries like the Infantree is “more than just an image, as opposed to a lot of the galleries in Lancaster. It’s not just about what’s ‘there,’ but there’s something deeper than that. And they explore a lot more mediums and ways of creating images.”

“Moist. Mammal. Doom” was displayed at Metropolis and carried the gallery’s propensity toward the colorful, the comic, and the grotesque. The Lancaster Museum of Art featured the work of illustrator Barry Moser in an exhibit titled “Portraits of Illustrious Persons.” More can be read about this exhibit in this post from Daniel Klotz’s local culture blog.

The night was rife with creative activity on a variety of fronts. Jazz pianist Matthew Monticchio held his usual roost at the Christiane David Gallery while several street guitarists strummed along the sidewalks of Prince.

Up at the 300 block of North Queen, Building Character hosted fire-spinning to the thumping beats of a live DJ. Across the street, at the newly opened Progressive Galleries, the Harrisburg-based band Smoke the Groove spread their funky tunes among the hanging displays.

The rush of incoming visitors was a boon to Downtown businesses, as is usually the case on such evenings. Around 10pm, a line stretched onto the sidewalk at 23 N Prince as dozens of patrons waited for ice cream at Carmen and David’s Creamery. Max Garcia-Hommel, who manages his parent’s recently opened shop, noted that things had been this busy since the early evening. Garcia-Hommel commented that it certainly makes up for the winter’s frigid effect upon patronage.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Editorial: We don't mean to bore you

NewsLanc believes that the incredible greed and dishonesty by business leaders throughout our nation which triggered the current severe recession also occurred in Lancaster over the past decade.

It's culmination was an almost $200 million Convention Center Project without a single supportive Market or Feasibility Study and, resulting from their opposition to the Project, a district attorney witch hunt of conscientious former county commissioners.

The deceptions could not have occurred without the past connivance and disingenuous reporting of the Lancaster Newspapers, Inc., a principal in the Convention Center Project.

The scam was so duplicitous and so shocking that only an extended NewsLanc series examining its various aspects can convincing tell the full story. The story is yet only about one-third reported in our series. The ultimate issue is whether we suffered from predatory business practices or a criminal conspiracy. And certainly even more will be learned in years to come.

The costs to date in the form of poor city planning, potential higher City and County taxes, and displaced worthier projects are staggering. If the Lancaster public doesn't look itself in its face, it will again be victimized.

PWC withdraws market studies, 2006

(This NewsLanc article appeared in 2006)

In a stunning development that could have substantial consequences for the proposed Mariott Hotel/Convention Center development, an email has surfaced from a senior PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) analyst, which says that because of the drastic changes in the nature and scope of the project, the powerhouse accounting firm asked that the board's Executive Director, David Hixson, remove all reference to PwC from its website.

"I am very concerned that the project before us does not match the project PriceWaterhouse analyzed," said Laura Douglas, an LCCCA board member. "This forces the issue that what is critically needed is thorough feasibility study of the project as it now stands."

"This is grave matter," said another LCCCA board member who requested anonymity. "This could affect the bond issue."

Board member, Deb Hall, said if Mr. Hixson did receive the note from Mr. Canton at Pricewaterhouse, and Hixson continued to use earlier Pricewaterhouse reports in its promotions, then it confirms her concerns about the "board's inability to conform to standard business practices."

She added, "At this point, I'm hesitant to spend more money, but if the project goes forward we need a feasibility study to see if it makes sense."

The email, which first appeared on, shows Robert Canton, Director PricewaterhouseCoopers Sports, Convention & Tourism Services, voicing serious professional concerns about the feasibility of proposed project.

Canton writes: "In March of this year, I was so concerned that [PriceWaterhouse Cooper's] analyses (demand study, economic impact, etc.) of a different building program were being used to 'promote' the proposed convention center development, that I wrote a note to Mr. Hixson requesting that all reference to PwC be removed from the LCCCA website."

The memo also includes: "Regardless of any review of our prior studies, the physical characteristics of the development that I understand to be proposed are VERY different from the project I studied (the equivalent of using a study of a 500 room Marriott to evaluate a 300-room Hampton)."

Canton concludes the memo by stating: "…I try to be very clear that we will not be influenced by what the client or community stakeholders 'want,' but rather will base our findings on what the market supports."

The LCCCA is under pressure from several board members, community leaders, and concerned citizens to conduct a thorough feasibility study on the proposed $137 million project. Thus far, board chairman Ted Darcus has dismissed these requests.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

PWCMarket Study: No vote of confidence

By Luis A. Mendoza and Robert Edwin Field

(Editor's note: The NewsLanc article was first published about three years ago.)

Despite repeated requests by the undersigned then city councilman and other officials and concerned citizens to view the PricewaterhouseCoopers 2000 and 2002 purported "feasibility studies," access was denied. It was alarming to learn recently that the so called "feasibility studies" were merely market studies. But, upon finally having an opportunity to review the market studies, it is shocking to discover that they are more negative than positive in their implications. Here are quotes from the studies:

· "Air access ('an airport served by major airlines') is important for national and regional events where the majority of attendees fly to the destination…. Lancaster’s closet major airport is located approximately 30 miles north of the city in Harrisburg."

· "Highway access to the center is relevant for statewide and local events since attendees tend to drive to the destination and the venue."

· "A wide range of attractions and amenities help a destination draw a greater number of attendees and increase the possibility of attendees bringing accompanying persons."

· "…trade shows are generally located in destinations offering large regional resident populations, large metropolitan area hotel room inventories, a facility with more contiguous exhibit space than can be accommodated in a center city location, and an airport served by major airlines."

· "…for professional association facilities, surveys of meeting planners and association executives typically state lack of a concentration of proximate high quality hotel rooms, unique shopping outlets, or a wide variety of nearby restaurants as main reasons for not selecting a center of destination."

· "Multilevel exhibition halls are successfully marketed in only a few of the most popular destinations in the world, such as Boston and Hong Kong."

Contrary to reports, 2002 Market Study rejected CC Project

Seventh in a series

The 2000 PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) Market and Economic Analysis report envisions a much smaller convention center than was actually built. The 2002 update considers a convention center of the size eventually built and recommends the 2000 concept of almost half the size "should continue to be used."

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) along with Ernst & Young and PKF Consultants arguably make up the three most prestigious hotel and convention center consultants in the both the United States and the world. PWC was engaged in 1999 and again in 2002 by the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority to perform a 'Market Study' but not a 'Feasibility Study'. A Market Study largely deals in regional and national generalities; a Feasibility Study predicts the financial outcome of a specific project. (Visit here to read American Evaluation's confirmation of the difference.)

In or about 2006, PWC would withdraw both its 2000 study and 2002 update, stating the large difference between what they had studied and what actually was to be built. They reportedly had previously warned the LCCCA about misrepresenting the conclusions of their studies. (Visit here for specifics.)

In 2007, PWC would decline a request from the County Commissions to create an actual Feasibility Study. The implication was PCW feared a controversy given how its Market Study had been misrepresented. (PKF Consultants were then engaged to generate a Feasibility Study.)
The 2000 it was predicated on a Convention Center that would be from 102,000 square feet to 116,000 net of Back-of-house support and Food Service Areas. The actual Convention Center is 183,917, about 75% larger on a comparable basis.

It appears that, even when adjusted for inflation, the projected cost for the Convention Center is approximately twice the amount anticipated in the 2000 report.

More telling is the 2002 "Update" of the PCW that had been commissioned by the LCCCA. A copy of the report, marked "Draft – For Discussion Purposes Only" states:

"As identified previously a goal of this report was to consider the potential for a modified convention center assuming a larger exhibition hall (50,000-56,000 square feet) and seating for concerts and certain sporting and special events.

"It is important to note that the November 2000 study was conducted subsequently to a 1999 analysis by another firm (Editor’s note: Ernst & Young) suggesting the development of a convention facility containing 61,000 square feet of meeting, ballrooms, and exhibit space. As indicated in our 2000 study, at that time the Authority was also interested in assessing the potential for a larger venue capable of attracting larger conventions and trade shows that could benefit county-wide hotels, restaurants, retail merchants, and other segments of the local economy. The November 2000 report suggested demand in Lancaster County for a somewhat larger center (compared to the 1999 study), as illustrated above, containing between 70,000 and 80,000 square feet of meeting, ballroom, and exhibit space."

The report goes on to state: "Discussions with potential meeting planners continue to support our November 2000 conclusions regarding facility needs (square footage) required by events that would consider Lancaster County and the proposed convention center."

Finally: "Based on the findings presented in this report, we have concluded that at the prior estimates of utilization for the proposed Lancaster County Convention Center should continue to be used for long term planning purposes."

According to former City Council member Luis A. Mendoza, the PWC Update was withheld from council members despite his insistance that he be provided a copy before voting on the Project.

Lancaster medical rip off of insurers

(When the cast was removed from a simple wrist fracture, the local medical practice encouraged the patient to purchase a customized splint and sling for $476. It was explained that the insurer would pay all the cost. The patient objected and ultimately selected the least expensive standard version for $40.

The following is from the wife of a physician in Canada, where they have a single payer health system.)

Boy, no wonder the U.S. Health system is in crisis!

The day my cast came off, I was fitted for what I could only describe as an open-ended tube sock. The specialist explained that it provides no support, but eases the transition from coming out of a cast. I wore it for the rest of the day, then no longer.

I may have worn a neoprene wrist brace on a couple of occasions while doing barn chores, as my wrist was weak and tired easily, but that's about it. You are right. The sooner you can go without a splint the faster you will regain strength and mobility.

Many patients may not even be aware of what they are signing when several papers are produced at once for their signature.

$476!! YIKES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, April 3, 2009

NewsLanc format to change on Monday

NewsLanc plans to switch over to the publishing platform at noon on Monday, April 9th, thus offering viewers a state-of-the-art look and a variety of conveniences.

Spearheaded by Webmistress Jilly Harris and Reporter Cliff Lewis, the selection of WordPress, choice of formats, modifications and inputs has been underway for several weeks.

For the curious, a mock up as of early Friday, April 3, can be viewed at .

We look forward to receiving comments and suggestions from our visitors.

LCCCA meets to approve final purchases

Thursday evening the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority met for a brief supplemental meeting to approve a short list of line items that have emerged in recent weeks.

In the words of Chairman Art Morris, the purpose of the meeting was "to keep things moving"—undoubtedly in view of the Convention Center’s opening date, which last week was postponed from April 21 to May 11.

The Board approved a collection of expenses, most of which involve additional furnishings for the facility and equipment for the staff. The line items ranged in cost from over $55,000 for "Custom Food Carts" to under $6,000 for "Kitchen Utencils."

It was clarified by Executive Director Kevin Molloy that all of these items (totaling around $270,000) would be for exclusive use of the Convention Center, and not the Marriot Hotel.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

First Friday Spotlight: The Infantree

by Cliff B. Lewis

(First in a series of "First Friday Spotlights")

Lancaster art is more than just flowers and barns, and spots like the Infantree gallery on the 4th floor of 21 N Prince St are a testament to that fact. The Infantree was founded by Lancastrian Tim Hoover in 2007 to create a space for genuine artistic quality and creative expression in Downtown Lancaster. Hoover was later joined by Ryan Martin and Ryan Smoker, making the Infantree a unified collective of artists sharing a special propensity toward graphic design.

The gallery at 211 N Prince exudes a delightfully urban atmosphere—being one of the few galleries as high as four stories up. Upon entering the forth-floor studio, even the initial hallway is dressed for the evening’s exhibit, bearing visual nods to an established theme. Typically, the exhibit itself is composed of work from several local artists, aligned with a common thematic strain. Last month, for instance, the exhibit featured vivid grid of nearly 100 small, square-shaped works (each 6” by 6”).

Much of the work displayed at the Infantree is oriented toward a collage-like design aesthetic, and almost none is immune to a certain hint of indie-quirk and irony. The Infantree displays art that isn’t merely “pretty” or “quaint”; it displays art that, although certainly pleasing in color and form, stretches the visual palate of the viewer by challenging their artistic assumptions. And just like good food, effective art will carry the recipient somewhere beyond familiarity to introduce new realms of enjoyment.

This First Friday, April 3, from 5-9pm, the Infantree will present “Out There,” and exhibit featuring the works of John Slaby, Keith Garcia, Christian Herr, and Kris Harzinski. For more information and a few samples from the featured artists, click here.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

EDITORIAL: Intell / New Era finally merge

"That was to be expected" was the response of most astute Lancastrians in seeing the Intell headline this morning "Intelligencer Journal, New Era will combine." The marvel is that it took so long in coming about.

But that was representative of how Lancaster old money has been squandered by a generation of inept managers and custodians of the wealth generated by others. This has lead to dreadful misdirection of community efforts and the enrichment of opportunistic business interests.

The Intell quotes Jack Buckwalter, Chair, as saying: "This is a very difficult decision for all of us, but we believe it is a necessary one in this current newspaper publishing environment. We know of no other market in the United States where the same ownership publishes morning and evening newspapers with separate editorial staffs."

But making "difficult decisions" is what top management is supposed to do in a timely manner, not being finally pushed into actions by the entire trend of print media throughout the country and by repeated criticisms and admonitions publicly from NewsLanc and undoubtedly privately by others. The article goes on to tell how sweeping is the change, even greater than had been anticipated.

"As part of a work-force reduction related to this change, Lancaster Newspapers will reduce its workforce by about 60 full-time and 40 part-time employees, representing about 20 percent of its employees, by the end of June. These numbers could be affected by retirements and normal attrition." Not to criticize but to interpret, we assume "retirement" means accepting some sort of pension; "attrition" means receiving a severance check on the way out of the door.

The article explains: "The day-to-day publishing process of the expanded morning combined edition will be under the direction of [Ray] Shaw, as is currently done for the Saturday and holiday editions. [Ernie] Schreiber will oversee the New Era's editorial page and a new investigative reporting team."

People say that Schreiber was a very good investigative reporter before unwisely being elevated to editor of the New Era. In their one lunch together, Schreiber impressed NewsLanc Publisher Robert Field as one of the most irrationally suspicious individuals he had ever met. (Schreiber kept on insisting that Field had some sort of business motivation for his activism. That is what comes from Schreiber hanging out with bad company.)

Ironically, if indeed Schreiber is to investigate, he should start with the Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. and explore whether they were involved in a criminal conspiracy concerning the Convention Center Project and whether Ray Shaw is fit to be the editor given his complicity with the actions taken by Intell reporters concerning illegal access to a confidential State web site. (To his credit, Schreiber editorially blasted the Intell and indirectly Shaw for its involvement at the time.)

One other good piece of news is that the circulation of the combined morning and evening newspapers has grown a bit. The stand alone morning paper should be stronger due to the added features from the afternoon edition. Whether circulation will shrink, stay the same or conceivably even grow (although unlikely) remains to be seen. Cost savings from the consolidation should extend the life of the Lancaster print media for years and perhaps even two decades.

There are three more actions that need to be taken by the Lancaster Newspapers, Inc if it is to fulfill the long held goal of the Steinman families of benefiting the community.

Both Buckwalter and President Chip Miller need to retire and bring in younger and smarter successors from outside Lancaster. And before leaving they should apologize publicly through a major front page editorial for their violations of journalism ethics concerning the Connestoga View investigation / witch hunt of the former commissioners and their self serving propaganda and pernicious misrepresentations on behalf of Penn Square Partners.

When that is done, the stable will have been swept reasonably clean. Integrity and wisdom will have been restored to a deeply damaged Lancaster City and County. John Steinman and others predecessors from that distinguished and generous family can rest in peace.

Moreover, the public will once again have newspapers in the Intell /New Era and Sunday News in which it can place its confidence.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

CC Optimism at Downtown Barbers and Salons

By Cliff B. Lewis

Even with its opening delayed until May 11th, all of the five Downtown hair-care businesses interviewed by NewsLanc were generally hopeful that the Convention Center will have a positive impact on business. This optimism, however, was tinged with a realistic awareness of problems that might come along with the package.

Eddie Hall, the owner of Champs Barber School at 24 W King St, expected that the Convention Center will increase customer traffic, but could bring some operational inconveniences: “It definitely can’t hurt the business….I think, if anything, it could help. Now, parking could possibly be an issue.”

George Valentin, the owner of Who’s Next Barber Shop at 301 W King, carried a similar tone: “I think it will affect us positively….The only thing I’m scared of is the taxes….But, overall, as a businessman I think that it’s a good thing.”

Kathy Hainley, an employee at Daymaker Hair Studio, on the lower level of the indoor mall at 45 N Market St, indicated that Daymaker is an appointment-only establishment, and thus will not likely benefit from Convention Center walk-ins. Although, she noted that more Downtown visitors could never hurt. On a more negative note, Hainley, who also works in Human Relations, expressed a concern that the Convention Center would not be well-managed. Having visited the recent career fair, she was struck by a pronounced lack of professionalism among those running the tables.

Wanda Castillo, owner of Jannat Beauty Design at 402 W Orange Street, was confident that some conventioneers will make it out to her West End location.

And Wendy Farrell, co-owner of American Male at 14 N Queen St, eagerly anticipates the Convention Center’s May opening: “All is good. I think we’re going to do great.” In fact, when Farrell selected this Downtown location in 2001, it was in direct anticipation of the Convention Center’s eventual opening.

On the whole, the prevailing theme among local barbers and salons was that more visitors might mean more customers—and that’s never a bad thing.

County Commissioners meet in Marietta Borough

Tonight the Lancaster County Commissioners held their weekly public meeting in the picturesque Marietta Borough Municipal Building in Downtown Marietta. The meeting, which is typically held in Downtown Lancaster, continued a longstanding tradition of County Commissioners periodically meeting in other parts of the County to more effectively engage with the diverse communities of this immense region.

Early in the meeting, Marietta Borough Council President Miriam Fletcher, addressed the commissioners on behalf of the local government. Fletcher expressed gratitude for the County’s role in the effort to revitalize the post-industrial riverfront neighborhood; one such contribution has been the provision of Urban Enhancement Funds for the renovation of Marietta’s town square, which, according to Fletcher, “is the heart of the Borough.”

Also, the Borough has been assisted by the Lancaster County Planning Commission in the early planning stages of the possible development of a post-industrial plot of land; the proposed plan would create an affordable housing facility for senior citizens. The Borough is currently in the process of seeking a developer, as well as project funding. Fletcher indicated that Federal money is not yet out the question.

Also at tonight’s Meeting, the County Commissioners approved a change order providing an additional $6,500 for Rettew Associates “in the design of the new Big Chickies Creek Bridge #2 on Action Road located in Rapho and East Hempfield Townships.”

The Commissioners also approved the procurement of claims management services from Murray Risk Management and Insurance, which is based in Lancaster. The switch from Travelers Insurance to Murray not only recruits locally-based service, but also will provide the County and immediate savings of $7,000.

The collapse of journalism threatens democracy itself...

An article "The Death And Life Of Great American Newspapers" by John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney appears in the April 6, 2009 edition of The Nation.

It contains many interesting observations and recommendations.

Here are two excerpts with our comments:

"Journalism is collapsing, and with it comes the most serious threat in our lifetimes to self-government and the rule of law as it has been understood here in the United States."

Many of the woes that have befallen our Lancaster community over the past decade are attributable to biased reporting due to special interests and virtual elimination of in depth reporting, causing the public to be misinformed and misguided. The major decisions have largely been debacles. (The worst pertaining to downtown Lancaster.) These 'chickens' in various endeavors are coming home soon to roost. The more NewsLanc learns from behind the scenes, the more concerned we have become.

"Mired in debt and facing massive losses, the managers of corporate newspaper firms seek to right the sinking ship by cutting costs, leading remaining newspaper readers to ask why they are bothering to pay for publications that are pale shadows of themselves. It is the daily newspaper death dance-cum-funeral march."

Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. is not afflicted by debt, but no enterprise - especially one so poorly led - can go on indefinitely if it increasingly loses money. A new generation of business executives - astute ones this time - is needed to lead LNP into the age of paperless journalism via the Internet.

This isn't a matter of further 'dumbing down', but rather paring down to well paid, highly competent journalists who provide in depth coverage and commentary. If they don't, others will! And ownership will likely come from national chains headquartered outside of the region.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Thomas Hylton lectures on "Growing communities, not sprawl".

By Cliff B. Lewis

Monday evening, as a kickoff to Franklin and Marshall's annual Sustainability Week, Pulitzer Prize-winner Thomas Hylton was hosted by the college for a lecture entitled "Save Our Land, Save Our Towns: Growing Communities, Not Sprawl."

Hylton, a lifelong Pennsylvanian and resident of Pottsville, focused his lecture upon how communities like Lancaster can preserve our natural lands by enriching our local neighborhoods. And, as Hylton explained it, local neighborhood enrichment leans upon two general qualities: Livability and Walkability.

For most of human history, people have lived in villages, towns, and cities. This was a commonsense arrangement: We can accomplish more, create more, and enjoy more when we’re closer together. But since the post-World War Two era, America has had a different idea.

With the development of affordable automobiles, our country has progressively sprawled away from its urban centers in favor of more personal space. Along with this shift, we have developed a car-centered way of life, which has produced its fair share of problems—neglected downtowns, obesity, and global warming only being the most obvious.

Other parts of the world, Hylton explained, have followed a different course of development: In England, "they had practically starved during the Second World War because they couldn’t import food …. So they decided after the War, 'We’re not going to see any agricultural [land] conversion if we can help it; we’re going to save the farms.'…. They developed greenbelts to save agriculture, but what they also saved, at the same time, was their towns …. In England more than two thirds of all retail trade is still conducted on traditional main streets; in the United States, it’s about 4%."

Ultimately, Hylton held a positive tone, confident that a rising global demand for oil, a growing cultural interest in local downtowns, and an increasing public awareness of the environmental costs of a car-centered society will steadily lead more and more people to lay roots in America’s towns and cities. Of course, in areas of policy, there remain some impediments to urban growth and land preservation; one example cited by Hylton is the property zoning:

"Zoning, in this county, generally speaking, does exactly the opposite of what you want to do. Zoning, in this county, separates things: 'The housing is here, the offices are here, the mall is up here….' Zoning should say, 'I don't care what’s going on inside of a building nearly as much as I care about what it looks like and how it relates to the street.'" On this note, Hylton commended the County's newly adopted Greenscapes plan in its consideration of these issues.

Mayor Rick Gray, who attended the lecture, expressed his personal commitment to growing and guiding Lancaster City toward a higher standard of livability: "Currently, we’re looking for the money to do a study that would end [the zoning problem] by individually zoning every business in the city for its prospective use. For example, so many corners we see in Lancaster were obviously built for commercial use and are now zoned residential….We’d look at that building under 'form-based' [zoning] and think about zoning just that building for light commercial use—a tailor shop, a coffee shop, that sort of thing." Gray expressed that a central goal in Lancaster City’s planning is to make the city a "walkable urbanity."