Sunday, February 22, 2009

What City Are We In Today?

Excerpts below reproduced courtesy of

One of the most often used reasons given as to why the downtown Lancaster, PA taxpayer-financed hotel and convention center project will be successful is because of how unique the facility will be. The combined structure includes the façade of the once-historic Watt & Shand building (which before demolition was listed on the National Register of Historic Places), as well as the remaining portions of Thaddeus Stevens' home, the Kleiss Saloon, two buildings once owned by Stevens' confidante Lydia Hamilton Smith, and the Montgomery House.

Visitors to the convention center who enter through the Vine Street entrance will be able to see the unearthed cistern behind Stevens' home that MIGHT have hidden runaway slaves, as well as a part of the future underground museum. Hotel guests will enter through the Watt & Shand façade. The Montgomery House is being renovated into high-end hospitality suites, and will be off limit to the vast majority of visitors.

Once inside the hotel and convention center, what makes the facility unique?

Unfortunately, not much.

The hotel lobby and restaurant have a street-level view of downtown Lancaster. Unfortunately, both the first half-block of E. King St. and the first block of S. Queen St. primarily contain generic contemporary structures that could be in any city. Neither the hotel ballroom nor the convention center ballroom have windows that provide a view; only the hallways outside the hotel ballroom include windows in the Watt & Shand façade. There is no view of Lancaster from inside the convention center, other than in a small portion of the "prefunction" areas. And even the lowest hotel room (on the sixth floor) is too high to provide anything but a distant overview of downtown Lancaster.

In all fairness, four of the convention center small meeting rooms will have a view of Penn Square and/or the first block of E. King St., as will eight of the hotel's small meeting rooms. But the large glass windows in the hotel restaurant open into a courtyard surrounded by concrete walls, where the hotel tower stairways exit onto E. King Street.

The virtual tour of the convention center, being used to sell the hotel and convention center to potential clients, shows a facility that could literally be located anywhere. (You can see the virtual tour on the Interstate Hotels and Resorts web site, There is nothing inside this facility to differentiate it from any other hotel and convention center located anywhere else in the developed world.

There was one small way that the hotel and convention center MIGHT have made guests feel like they were really in Lancaster, and that is through artworks. Had the hotel rooms and hallways included art or photographs depicting Lancaster, it might have enticed visitors to go exploring beyond the hotel and convention center walls.

Unfortunately, the contract between Interstate Hotels and Resorts and the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority dictate that all art displayed in all parts of the "shared space" be supplied by a division of Interstate Hotels and Resorts. Penn Square Partners has also selected IHR to provide art for all of their meeting and hotel rooms. Rest rooms throughout the entire facility will display "institutional art", generic pictures purchased by the square inch. All that is left for the LCCCA to display art are the main convention hall, the prefunction areas, several hallways, and the corridor between the Penn Square (formerly King St.) parking garage and the convention center.

A committee was formed, led by representatives from IHR, to review and purchase artwork for the spaces available to the convention center authority. Unfortunately, questions about direction led to significant delays. A formal Request For Proposals to purchase art for the convention center was not published in the Legal Notices section of the Lancaster Newspapers until Thursday, February 19, 2009, with bids due no later than 5:00 PM on March 2, 2009. This means that potential bidders only have just over ten days to make a formal proposal, and for all intents and purposes prevents original artwork from being created specifically for the convention center. This also only allows just over 50 days until the convention center opens for business for the committee to review all proposals, select the finalists, present the artwork to the LCCCA board for approval, and mount the artwork in its final position.