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."

Concerned about prices of drugs?

www.parxpricefinder.com is a state website that allows consumers to search a specific geographic region for the prices of the 300 most commonly prescribed medications.

No lingering under Marriott portico

A NewsLanc reader, viewing the Marriott Hotel canopy being constructed in front of the Watt & Shand facadel, inquired "When one drives up to check in, what happens with the traffic?"

We asked Tom Smithgall of High Associates: "How many lanes are there for the traffic under the portico."

He replied "About 2 lanes." Hmm.

We asked "Is there room for cars to park for a few minutes while the driver registers without obstructing curb side registration?"

Smithgall replied: "This will be an operational issue for the staff at Interstate Hotels & Resorts to manage, but the idea is for people to arrive, remove their luggage and to choose to valet or not. As you can see, and is the case in some urban hotels, the area is not for lingering as there may be many others coming at the same time. The valet service and the staff are to make this as seamless and inviting as possible for the guests."

EDITORIAL: SD of L soccer off to disasterous start

Junior Varsity Girls Soccer at McCaskey has scored one goal to the opponents 18 while losing their first three games of the season. The Varsity has also lost all three games by lopsided scores.

It's all about lack of training of coaches and, despite over a year of prodding and offers from outside the District to subsidize the instruction of coaches, Superintendent Pedro Rivera and more recently Athletic Director Jon Mitchell aren't doing a thing about it.

Next we will hear whining about how these kids are not motivated. Bull! The ably coached track team wins more than its share of metes. So can the other teams successfully compete when coaches learn how to conduct meaningful practices.

The good intentions of coaches are not enough. Teachers and coaches need to know how to teach their subjects! And Rivera and Mitchell need to know how to manage.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Was the New Era 1999 article re Ernst & Young disingenuous?

The following is excerpted from the Aug. 26, 1999 New Era.

"In a display that united old foes and bridged city-county and Republican- Democrat differences, county leaders have embraced plans for a $75 million downtown hotel and convention center with almost religious zeal…

"Representatives of Ernst & Young, an international accounting firm and industry leader in real estate analysis, presented the findings of their study supporting the plan.

"The project includes a 281-room four-star hotel, a 61,000-square- foot convention center built on vacant land adjacent to the former store and on the site of Oblender's Inc. furniture store, and a $7 million expansion and renovation of the King Street parking garage…

"After completion, the project would employ 577 full-time workers, generate $13.3 million annually in sales, income and personal income taxes and create another $30.7 million annually in local goods and services, she said."

Note that the "75 million downtown hotel and convention center" ended up costing almost $200 million.

Given the recent NewsLanc analysis of the report, note the false description of the Ernst & Young study as "supporting the plan."

Note the 61,000 square foot convention center ended up over three times that size.

Note the absurd claim of generating "577-full time jobs." Again, this is about three times what is taking place.

What we do agree is that "county leaders have embraced plans... with almost religious zeal." It had to be a matter of faith because there was little about the facts that was encouraging.

EDITORIAL: Naivete or hypocrisy, or both?

The Sunday News "Perspective Section" rails against greed and privilege on the national level (Gil Smart: "Too big to suffer the consequences") and corruption on the state level (Editorial: "The State for Scandal.")

What is missing is any censorship of local practices, as though Lancaster has remained pristine during an era that was recently aptly described as notable for the "Incredible greed and dishonesty of the ruling class of America."

The entire history of the Convention Center Project scam is proof, as is methodically being established by the series in NewsLanc. And the Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. played a pivotal role and endeavored to profit from it.

Lancaster citizenry awaits the day that newspaper management will make a public apology for years of disinformation and propaganda (and possibly worse!) But first the executive floor will need to be cleaned out.

Friday, March 27, 2009

What really happened atTMI 25 years ago

Special to NewsLanc from H. Michael Gray. Gray wrote the original screenplay for "The China Syndrome." His book, "The Warning: Accident at TMI," is based on his on-scene reporting, operator interviews, and the five official studies that followed.

The "unplanned event" at Three Mile Island 30 years ago this month was set in motion by the failure of a $20 check valve in a half-inch copper pipe. That minor incident led to a series of cascading failures that presented the men in the control room with a situation they had never seen before and had never been trained to handle. With key instruments gone haywire, flying blind, they made a couple of bad choices that wiped out the plant and released a still unknown amount of radioactivity into the air.

For several years, the wreckage of the reactor itself was too hot to approach so we didn't know how close we had come. But when the inspectors were finally able to lower a camera into the pressure vessel, the image was a heart-stopper. There was nothing left of the 150-ton uranium core but rubble. Parts of it had turned to liquid. Which means that at some moment on that fateful Wednesday, the reactor at TMI was within 30 minutes of the "China Syndrome" -- a melt-down comparable to the disaster at Chernobyl. Had it not been for a lucky operator who flipped a switch to see what would happen, the Pennsylvania state capitol might now be a ghost town.

The current world-wide scramble for dwindling oil reserves is forcing us to take another look at good neighbor nuke. But before we hit the on-switch, we need to carefully consider the lessons of Chernobyl and TMI: nuclear power is a completely unforgiving technology. The worst-case scenario must always be front and center --- because Murphy's Law turns out to be as immutable as the law of gravity. "If something can go wrong, it will."

Art community voices concerns at CC meeting

At Thursday’s Lancaster County Convention Center Board Meeting, several local artists addressed the Board with concerns that the surrounding art community was not properly informed of a potential business opportunity. On February 19, a Request for Proposal (RFP) was published by the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority (LCCCA) for over $78,000 worth of art for Lancaster County Convention Center.

With a tight proposal deadline and limited notification, many artists were left with as little as five days to submit their proposals, while many of the project parameters required unusual dimensions in which most artists could not provide existing material.

One Pequea resident, who recently opened an art gallery in Downtown Lancaster, spoke firmly to the Board regarding his disappointment with the process: “While I applaud the Authority’s interest in supporting the local artists, I must say that the planning and implementation of the release of that information, I believe, was flawed.” While acknowledging the difficulties of coordinating a slew of last-minute work requests, he asserted that this problem, at the very least, exhibited a lack of connection to the local art community—particularly those located Downtown.

Executive Director Kevin Molloy provided some helpful explanation for the rushed proposal deadline: “Originally, the plan by the architects did not have the level of artwork involved with the Convention Center that we are now….We had listened to some public comment, and we flipped that 180 [degree turn around], rather late in the game.”

Molloy also noted that the aforementioned art requests will not likely cover all wall-space that could potentially be fitted with local art. The Board made assurances that, the next time around, there will be a more rigorous effort both to notify the local art community and to allow sufficient time for response.

Although noting the unavoidable complications surrounding the recent RFP, Chairman Art Morris asserted that he is “sorry” that the process didn’t reach as many artists as possible.

Veri and Jamanis wow New York audience

Thursday evening Lancaster's duo-pianists Veri & Jamanis performed "An Evening with George Gershwin" before a packed Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. The audience of almost three hundred expressed great enthusiasm after each number and gave them a standing ovation at the concert's conclusion.

For those with memory going back to decades of the couples' New York recitals, the evening was especially satisfying.

A bus load of devotees made the trip from Lancaster and back after the concert, arriving mid-afternoon to allow passengers time to do a bit of sight seeing and to stretch their legs.

Fran Veri obviously was enjoying her solo performance of the Gershwin "Song Book" of seventeen popular numbers starting with "Swanee" and concluding with "I Got Rhythm." The duo performed "Variations on 'I Got Rhythm'" at the outset followed by a Veri arrangement of "An American in Paris."

The couple concluded with a performance of "Rhapsody in Blue" that 'brought down the house.'

Veri is a native of Lancaster, the daughter of a physician. The couple have resided locally for well over forty years and are the artistic founders of the Pennsylvania Academy of Music. They met in New York City while students at the famed Julliard School of Music.

The audience had come to hear Gershwin played at its best and as it was written: for one and two pianos. It was clear from the its rapt attention throughout the performances, comments at Intermission and happy faces when filing out that that the attendees were delighted.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Downtown stores for old books are local jewels

By Cliff B. Lewis

The used books business is a tough one these days. With big-box outlets drawing the masses to their pseudo coffee shop environments, and with online networks connecting buyers to individual booksellers, people too quickly overlook the simple pleasure of strolling through aisles of thoughtfully arranged hardbacks or the sweet dry fragrance of time on pages once-read.

Of course, a walk on Chestnut Street might jog one’s memory. On 11 and 529 W Chestnut Street are two such thoughtful and inviting bookshops.

Chestnut Street Books, at 11 W Chestnut, has been the endeavor of Warren and Mar Anderson since 1991. Before setting up shop, the couple made their final decision to move here from Baltimore after Warren had visited Onion’s Café in Lancaster City: “I had coffee and chatted with the woman who was running the place….I thanked her and went on my way, and I hadn’t gotten maybe half a block, and here she comes, running down the street, because I’d walked off and left my portfolio on the counter. And I said to myself: ‘What would be the probability of somebody doing that in Baltimore? Zero!’”

In the last 18 years, the Andersons have garnered a fluent handling of the skills required for used book-selling: An encyclopedic knowledge of literary works, authors, genres; a sharp memory for the faces and interests of repeat customers; an innate understanding of the value of different books in different places. According to Warren, a good used book store is measured by the quality of its selection: “Any idiot can put out bad books or common books…that you can hardly walk down the street without tripping over a copy; but putting out good books, interesting books that are in good shape…that’s what makes the difference between a good book store and an inferior bookstore, in my opinion.”

Unfortunately for the City of Lancaster, Chestnut Street Books will only remain open beyond July of this year. Proud of what this post-retirement project has accomplished, Warren says “the problem is that, just about the time that you have learned how to do it, you realize that you are now too old to do it.” This little bookshop near Chestnut and Queen will surely be missed.

Fortunately for the City, however, there will still remain another used bookseller—and on the same stretch of road, no less! Dogstar Books, at 529 W Chestnut, was opened by Brian Frailey in 2006. The new establishment boasts a hip and colorful atmosphere, located just across the street from the quaint Chestnut Hill Café.

Frailey opened the shop as a supplement to an online business that he had already been running for several years. The physical location served as a way to sell inexpensive books not worth the shipping cost and to keep his work interesting: “Selling online, there’s a lot of time and work, and you don’t ever have a social life. At least, when you’re in the shop, people come in and talk to you.” Since Dogstar’s opening, the shop has played host to a broad variety of Downtown social and cultural events, from poetry readings to art galleries to musical performances.

Though the market can be rough, the used books business is here to stay in Downtown Lancaster. They exist to promote good literature, good conversation, and one of the most obvious forms of recycling. It would surely be a benefit to all if we local residents would stop by these establishments next time we think of driving to the nearest big-box.

LETTER; Why didn't High let everyone know?

"At the LCCCA Finance Committee meeting this past Monday evening, there was a discussion about moving the LCCCA offices a few weeks after the hotel and convention center opened for business on April 21. It is obvious that at least 36 hours before this announcement the LCCCA leadership had no idea this delay was coming.

"At the LCCCA PR, Marketing, and Hospitality committee meeting on Thursday, March 19, Josh Nowak of Interstate Hotels and Resorts presented his usual report, with no mention of the possibility of a delay. It is possible that IHR didn't know about this delay in advance, either.

"There is a video on Lancaster Online of Tom Smithgall from High stating that 'substantial completion' should still occur in mid-April, as previously scheduled. The original plan was for the facility to open a week after 'substantial completion', now it will take a month. What changed?

"I wonder how long it has been since general contractor High knew that more than a week would be needed to wrap up the project. I have trouble believing that an experienced contractor like High would not have knownmonths ago that this extra time would be needed. Why didn't High let everyone know that this could happen?

"Now the hotel and convention center will be opening with a damaged reputation of its own creation; not the fault of the LCCCA or of IHR, but by the very same corporation which has already profited the most from thisproject."

Amnesty offered for return of stolen circulation box

At the suggestion of a reader, amnesty will be given if the stolen NewsLanc circulation box is replaced by the end of the week on the SW corner of Marietta Avenue and School Lane from which it was stolen.

Excessive zeal or hubris?

The postponement of the opening of the Convention Center and Marriott Hotel is regretable, especially since events have to be cancelled.

Getting thousands of things done simultaneously and all necessary approvals from officials and Marriott is a formidable task. Yet schedulilnlg an extra 60 days for sitting empty as a precaution would have lost revenue and idled workers.

NewsLanc does not envy the the contractors, Penn Square Partners and the Convention Center Authority the task of meeting a tight deadline. After all, prudence has always been missing from the Project.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

$1000 reward offered concerning theft of newspaper circulation box

The red NewsLanc newsletter circulation box at the South West corner of Marietta Avenue and School Lane was stolen on Wednesday morning and its contents strewn across the lawn.

Newspaper circulation boxes are permitted on public ground and right-of-ways as freedom of speech under the U. S. Constitution.

NewsLanc is offering a thousand dollars reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction on felony charges of those illegally removing the box.

EDITORIAL: Lehman should listen before deciding

We are pleased that Commissioner Craig Lehman will be attending board meetings for the various libraries to learn more about their special circumstances and ideas.

But we are disappointed that, at his first stop, Lehman rejected out of hand the idea of library consolidation into an authority on the assumption that the various libraries would not go along.

A leader won't hear ideas and learn much by stating preconceived notions at the outset.

Commissioner Lehman Listens to City Library Concerns

By Cliff B. Lewis

Yesterday County Commissioner Craig Lehman attended a meeting of the Board of Lancaster Public Library (Duke St). This was the first in his tour of all the county libraries, which will continue into the summer.

Lehman explained, “I thought it was a good time to get out and visit with the different libraries to really get a sense of what you all are facing. My instincts tell me that, since every library in Lancaster County is unique, you’re probably all facing different stuff.”

Tuesday’s visit yielded a lively and substantive discussion between the Commissioner and the City Library’s leadership.

During the meeting, Board Memeber John Havrilla described the problems encountered by the library: “…We are an urban library, an inner-city library, as opposed to a rural or suburban library, and to some degree, we have our own set of needs that are unique…”

Board President John McGrann asserted that these unique needs are not being matched with appropriate funding. Based on a rough analysis of County Library System funding, the City library has seen a 35% funding decrease between 2006 and 2008, while the rest of the County libraries experienced a funding increase of around 40%.

The Board attributed much of the funding problem to an inadequate formula employed by the Library system, which is driven by factors such as circulation, collections, local financial effort, and a share that is distributed generally to all local libraries. The formula, however, does not account for the needs of the City library, where books are often used in-house and do not as easily influence circulation numbers. Also, the current formula does not sufficiently recognize the City library’s unique use of public computers.

Treasurer Karen Haley Field recommended serious consideration for a restructuring of the Library System. The current organizational structure is a “Federated” system, in which each library has its own board which then sends one representative to the County-level board. Field recommended the implementation of a consolidated system where each member library in the County would be treated like a business branch. In this system, all government funds could go into “one pot” which could then be distributed by expert leadership with an eye toward the individual needs of each member library.

Commissioner Lehman did not agree with the notion of reorganizing the Library system, but recognized the need for changes:

“I think it’s a nice theoretical idea, I just don’t believe that it’s a very practical solution here in Lancaster County. I think part of what makes each library unique is that fact that they are connected to their local communities, and I think the best we can hope to do is figure out how to keep our Federated system and make it work the best it can…. I think our challenge here is, how do you collectively come together to make what we have work the best that we can?”

Bill introduced to allow newspapers to become nonprofits

A report from Reuters appearing at NEWSMAX.COM states that U. S. Senator Benjamin Cardin has introduced a bill "allowing newspaper companies to restructure as nonprofits with a variety of tax breaks."

According to Cardin, "This may not be the optimal choice for some major newspapers or corporate media chains but it should be an option for many newspapers's that are struggling to stay afloat."

Presumably contributions to such a non-profit would provide a tax credit against incomes from other sources. Given the Steinman family's history of philanthropy and the rapid deterioration of the financial viability of newspapers throughout the country, such a option may someday prove useful, especially given their other investments.

Nevertheless, even nonprofits need to meet payrolls! Local news websites due to their lower costs, usually offshoots of the newspapers, may benefit more from being nonprofits than the print media.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

City at violators' service...for $250

At Tuesday's City Council meeting, Director of Administrative Services Patrick Hopkins reported to the Council regarding the Administrative Ticketing system now in place to enforce the City’s updated Property Maintenance Code.

According to Hopkins, the ultimate goal of the new system to improve neighborhood quality of life, to improve the efficiency of City inspectors through technology, and to reduce court time through alternative enforcement of related problems.

The new system, Hopkins explained, works in a manner similar to vehicle-related ticketing. When a violation is recognized by an inspector, the site will be captured by digitally timed-stamped photographs and the property owner is issued a $25 ticket.

If the violation qualifies as “non-abatement,” the fine must be paid, but there will be no subsequent inspection. Trash-can or recycling violations are examples of this category. If the violation qualifies as “abatement,” the City will revisit the property after a specified period of time to confirm that the violation has been corrected. If not, the City will hire a contractor to correct the violation and bill the property owner for the work (approximately $250.00)."

Under the new system, over 400 property violations have been dealt with, with a total of only 10 appeals.

$575,000 for land preservation

At today’s County Commissioners’ Planning Session, James Cowhey, Executive Director of the Lancaster County Planning Commission, discussed a land preservation resolution to be adopted at tomorrow’s public meeting. Under the pending resolution, $525,000 would be granted to the Lancaster County Conservancy “through the 2009 Natural Lands Preservation Fund to acquire and preserve … natural areas” in Lancaster County. The list of lands to acquire is topped by the New Holland Watershed tract, according to Cowhey.

Carrying over land preservation funding from 2008, this resolution represents an effort to put the County’s new Greenscapes Plan into action before officially lining up funding for the plan. One of Greenscapes’ core values is the preservation of “Green Infrastructure,” the network of nearby ecosystems that both tangibly and intangibly contribute to quality of life in Lancaster County. Tomorrow’s resolution would serve to preserve a few tracts of such Green Infrastructure.

Although a step toward preservation, the resolution was considered meager by some. John May, a Manor Township Supervisor and a member of the Lancaster County Conservancy Land Preservation Committee, addressed the Commissioners, expressing his concern that as much funding as reasonably possible be allocated toward the protection of natural spaces: “If there was ever an issue that you wouldn’t get an argument on from County residents, it would be land preservation….I know that you would need a fine pencil to do this, but I’m here to ask if you could a little better than $525,000.”

EDITORIAL: Another loss for SD of L athletics

The Intelligencer Journal reports the resignation of Scott Feldman as head football coach at McCaskey High School.

According to the report, Feldman implied what NewsLanc reported over a year ago when he said he was unable to secure what he felt was the needed cooperation from the McCaskey High administration.

"I saw this coming two-and-a-half years ago," said Feldman. "But I don't think anybody believed it would happen. Last year, they saw it could happen. We're going to have to put in the hard work like everybody else.”

Although Feldman was critical of school administration for not giving him sufficient time and resources to work with football players throughout the year and to help oversee their academic progress, the real fault lies higher up with the offices of the School Superintendent.

In the winter of 2007, NewsLanc broke the story of how Assistant Superintendent Drew Miles had ignored the System’s athletic and physical fitness programs as it slipped into dysfunction, not even requiring the detailed report from the Athletic Director that had been prepared annually, describing each teams results and explaining plans for the future.

In addition, NewsLanc published the sad win / loss results of most of the McCaskey teams in competition and called for the replacement of Allen McCloud as athletic director whom we deemed unqualified and unsuited for the position.

With the departure of McCloud soon thereafter, NewsLanc urged incoming School Superintendant Pedro Rivera and also the School Board to conduct a thorough search and to allot sufficent funds to engage an experienced athletic director, preferably from outside the SD of L. NewsLanc even passed along a recommendation of one outstanding candidate from the region.

Instead Rivera and the Board chose to jump a SD of L wrestling coach and dean of the Lafayette elementary school into arguably its second most challenging administrative and leadership position.

When NewsLanc interviewed the newly appointed Jon Mitchell, it was apparent that, although he may have been material for an assistant athletic director, prematurely putting him into the lead position was both foolish and a disservice.

Being a successful athlete or even a coach does not make someone a leader and executive. That only comes with time and experience, assuming latent ability. And even if one knows what to do, it is very difficult to alter peer relationships long established.

NewsLanc has repeatedly pointed out that the main problem with many of the McCaskey teams is lack of knowledge on the part of coaches on how to run drills, train skills, and conduct active and vigorous practices. We have recommended the services of the local OneOnOne Soccer organization to assist the soccer coaches and identified outside funding for the purpose. Nothing has occurred.

Athletics are an important part of education and play a major role in providing exercise, building character and helping to retain students in school until graduation.

Given the large size of McCaskey's student body, given proper coaching, there is no good reaon why the school cannot be fully competitive.

It appears the School District of Lancaster’s athletic program will remain in a rut until and unless Mitchell and Rivera learn the hard way how to turn things around, and that will start by training the trainers --- the coaches --- on how to be prepare their teams.

The current situation is unfair to the students, to the community, and does not reflect favorably on Rivera or the School Board. It is time for the public to raise hell!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Critics give warm welcome to film produced by Lancastrians

Former Lancastrian and NewsLanc's "Santa Monica" movie reviewer Dan Cohen and publisher Robert Field teamed up to help produce the motion picture "Perestroika" that previewed before an audience of 700 at a New York City benefit last week and opened in Los Angeles over the week end to near rave reviews.

The following are excerpts from the four reviews to date:

LA Weekly: "GO: PERESTROIKA On the evidence of his new movie, Slava Tsukerman, who made the 1982 cult movie Liquid Sky, would make a brilliantly entertaining dinner guest. The Russian writer-director, who thrives on confusion, has emptied the contents of his very busy head and heart into this crowded, talky but immensely likable movie about almost everything in a rapidly changing, uncertain post perestroika world."

Los Angeles Times: "In this highly personal film, Tsukerman bristles with insights and ideas, pondering even whether it's God's plan that man should destroy all life -- yet manages to work his way rigorously toward a note of spirituality. ‘Perestroika’ asks, with a philosophical shrug of the shoulders: Why not try to be optimistic?"

Variety: "An REF Prods. presentation. Produced by Nina V. Kerova, Slava Tsukerman. Executive producer, Robert Field. Co-producer, Dan Cohen. Directed, written by Slava Tsukerman.

With: Sam Robards, F. Murray Abraham, Oksana Stashenko, Ally Sheedy, Jicky Schnee, Maria Andreyeva, Andrey Sergeyev.

Soviet emigre Slava Tsukerman has spent much of his career crafting docus detailing the lesser-known stories of the former USSR, yet he's best known as the renegade director behind 1982's hallucinatory cyberpunk freak-out 'Liquid Sky.' With "Perestroika," he fuses both halves of his filmmaking persona, turning the semi-autobiographical story of a returning Russian refugee into a deeply strange, breezily existential cocktail of Milan Kundera and Federico Fellini. he film, which opened March 20 in Los Angeles, is unwieldy, overstuffed and at times hopelessly clunky, yet it's also touchingly funny, visually arresting and somehow a consistent joy to watch."

FilmCritic.com: 4 stars out of 5. "Deeply personal, fiercely political, whimsical and unpredictable in style, and direct in voice, writer-director Slava Tsukerman's Perestroika resonates across personal, national, global, and even cosmic levels, all at once….Most striking about Perestroika, though, is its hard-to-categorize style. Tsukerman smashes together a smorgasbord of video and archival Soviet footage; on-location sequences with scenes using experimental rear projection and false perspectives; digitally processed imagery; sequences intercutting the low-budget psychedelic present-time with pristine sepias of the past, and so on, in a delirious approximation of Sasha's emotional and psychological life."

Field said that seventeen years passed between when the screenplay was written and the movie was filmed in Moscow in 2007. He credited Cohen, an F & M graduate and now a film writer and director in his own right, with making a major artistic contribution to the final editing of the movie.

The movie opens in New York City on April 17th at the Cinema Village.

A trailer, full reviews and other materials can be viewed at http://www.perestroikathemovie.com/.

What Ernst and Young study actually said about CC Project

The sixth in a series

A Feasibility Study predicts the financial results of a proposed project, so the author’s credibility over the years depends upon outcomes and, if their methodology strays from professional standards, the firm may be actionable when its findings prove excessively wide of the mark.

In contrast, a Market Study simply describes what is happening with projects throughout the nation and regionally, makes assumptions based upon industry wide experience, comments on the local market place, but makes no prediction of financial viability.

In short, authors of market studies have no skin in the game! Thus the Ernst and Young Study of July 19, 1999 runs to 134 pages and is an excellent primer for someone interested in the state of hotels and convention centers nationally and regionally, but only makes brief comments about the nature of the local market and contains at least one glaring omission.

The study is predicated upon a 294 room hotel and a 61,000 square feet conference facility and shared common areas, less than one third of the 250,662 square feet that was actually built. It paints a rather negative picture of prospects for even a small Convention Center.

To make clear that this is only a Market Study and not a Feasibility Report, it states in bold print: "It is important to note that this does not take into account the estimated costs associated with the development of each Scenario, the financial feasibility, or the anticipated returns."

It "… summarizes projected demand at the Center, based on assumptions regarding the market" but does not include the most important comparable, the struggling downtown Brunswick (former Hilton) hotel. Instead it only provides market information for three suburban hotels: Lancaster Host Resort, Best Western Eden Resort and Willow Valley Resort.

(The market for a downtown hotel is distinct from the market for suburban hotels since the latter are closer to tourist attractions, commerce, industry, and the highway system. Note its comment "based on assumptions regarding the market." We can only assume Ernst and Young was encouraged not to include the pivotal information concerning the struggling Brunswick.)

In addition, the report recommends "tennis court’s and/or racquetball court(s)" and "preferred tee-times at nearby golf course(s)." It goes on to explain: "According to the IACC, a fitness club, swimming pool, and tennis courts are the most common recreational facilities offered at conference centers in 1997."

The report lists "Factors Assessed as Competitive Weaknesses: (1) Air access; (2) Cultural, arts and entertainment attractions; (3) Population (4) industry concentration; (5) Historical demand for lodging/meeting facilities; (6) Market image for meetings/conventions/trade and consumer shows; (7) Other quality-of-life issues."

"Competitive Strengths" were limited to:

"(1)Perceived cost savings associated with booking and attending an event in Lancaster versus other locations in Pennsylvania (including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Hershey)."

"(2)The Center’s advantage with respect to including an attached, upscale full-service hotel (estimated to be of sufficient size to capture a portion of lodging demand generated by large shows and conventions), is offset by a lack of hotels within walking distance of the Center (other than the Brunswick Hotel) to capture spillover demand."

According to Ron Harper of FifthEstate.com, the Ernst and Young study was not made available to the public until twenty hours before the County Commissioners voted to establish a 5% hotel room tax, 3.9% to directly subsidize the Conference Enter and 1.1% to promote tourism.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

What CC market studies actually revealed

Fifth in a series

Now that reporter Jim Sneddon’s research has established the wasteful and highly questionable expenditures of millions of dollars of Convention Center Authority funds, NewsLanc will now examine the history of the Convention Center Project and report upon the sponsors' disingenuous representations, falsehoods, and connivances over the almost decade long evolution of the project.

Marketing Studies

In sequence, studies were as follows:

1) The LDR Plan – 1998.

2) The Pinnacle Advisory Group study of 1998

3) Ernst and Young Report of 1999.

4) PricewaterhouseCoopers study of 2000.

5) PricewaterhouseCoopes update of 2002. (Subsequently withdrawn.)

6) C. H. Johnson study of 2003.

7) The PKF Feasibility Study of 2006 funded by the County Commissioners and boycotted by the sponsors and the Convention Center Authority.

It is NewsLanc’s contention that the reports were at times concealed, made public at the very last minute prior to pivotal votes, observations ignored or misrepresented, and alarms disregarded by the Convention Center Authority and Sponsors.

LDR Plan of 1998.

It suggests: “Build on the visual impact of the 'New Lancaster Square West' to create an opportunity site on Lancaster Square East for a small, state-of-the-art conference center of approximately 40,000 – 50,000 square feet. Work with the new owners of the Hotel Brunswick to assure the hotel’s linkage with the conference center, and that its redevelopment includes not only interior renovation, but an external, architectural enhancement of the building façade – an entirely new image. All of this will create a major ‘people place’ for Lancaster and establish the city as an important visitor destination.”

Of paramount importance, it recommends a conference center of 40,000 – 50,000 square feet. Instead, the Convention Center consists of 183,917 square feet plus 66,745 square feet of shared space with the adjoining Marriott .

All studies prior to the PKF were predicated on the assumption of a "small to median size" conference center. Later, PricewaterhouseCoopers would withdraw its studies citing the growth in scale of the envisioned project.

Note the location is not the Watt & Shand bulding but rather adjoining the Brunswick Hotel.

Ample space was available in unused and underused portions of the Brunswick, the adjoining vacant theater and empty shops, plus the opportunity to expand the existing public facilities to accomodate a small to medium size conference center. NewsLanc estimates the the Brunswick could have been restored to its orginal splendor and the alterations and additions accomplished for under $40 million dollars, a fraction of the almost $200 million ultimately invested in the Convention Center / Hotel project.

The Pinnacle Advisory Group study of 1998:

This study apparently was withheld from the public, even though the Lancaster Newspapers Inc. and the City of Lancaster reportedly were sponsors and public money helped pay for the study. NewsLanc has filed a "Right To Know" request with the City. We anticipate the report was very negative.

Until the 2006 PKF report (the first true "feasibility" study), reports were predicated upon a small to median size conference center. In 2006, PricewaterhouseCoopers would withdraw its two studies citing as a reason the growth in scale of the envisioned project.

(To be continued)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ayers Visit Draws Protest and Counter-Protest

Around 6:30pm Thursday night, a smattering of signs were held by both those protesting the visit of speaker Bill Ayers and those protesting such protest. Although generally benign, the scene was tense: The anti- as well as the pro-Ayers crowds occupied the same short stretch of sidewalk in front Millersville University’s Student Memorial Center.

The protests, on either end, remained calm and civil, and Ayers’ speech proceeded without notable interruption.

A sense of principled urgency was projected by protesters on either side of the spectrum. For those opposing Ayers’ visit, this was a matter of integrity for the University. Mike, whose sign read, “next year let’s invite Osama,” explained his position: “I disagree with the college that I graduated from hosting a former terrorist as a keynote speaker for something they could have found someone else to do.”

For those who supported Millersville’s hosting of Ayers, this was a matter of first amendment rights. Matt, whose sign read, “MU = Education not IGNORANCE,” explained what brought him out: “I’m out here to support freedom of speech, I’m here to support Bill Ayers. I’m not here to support anything he has done in his past, but I think we need to move on and recognize him for the Urban Education developments that he has made….”

Lancaster's Radio Centro attracts International Latino Stars

Radio Centro (91.3 WLCH) first entered the local airwaves on September 14, 1987. Station Manager Enid Vasquez-Pereira was there on that Monday morning, and today she easily recalls the small beginnings: “It was a little studio. You’d walk into the production studio and then walk into the on-air studio, so there were a lot of interruptions.” It was a Now the station occupies a generous first-floor space for their lively headquarters at 30 N Ann St.

Radio Centro (RC) is a Spanish public broadcasting station serving Hispanic and Latino listeners in Lancaster and beyond. Being an NPR-affiliated broadcaster, the station offers a blend of educational and cultural programming, some of which is produced by larger national studios, such as Radio Bilingue's Linea Abierta (airing Monday through Friday at 3:00pm). Much of RC’s educational programming, however, is homegrown, produced right here at the Downtown Lancaster studio.

Music plays an important role in RC’s programming. And, although most of the music is Spanish-language, there exists a wide range of ethnic genres. As Lancaster has grown in its diversity of Hispanic nationalities, Vasquez-Pereira explained, RC has sought to provide specialized blocks of programming catered to various styles—from Cuban to Dominican. Occasionally, up-and-coming artists have visited RC from New York City or other urban centers to talk on the air. According to Vasquez-Pereira, “we have had some who are now international stars,” such as Andy Andy and Aventura.

Aside from providing Spanish-speakers with valuable news and information, one of RC’s greatest accomplishments is preserving Hispanic and Latino culture by connecting older and younger generations.

Vasquez-Pereira explained the dynamic: “We do have some programs that the older individuals might appreciate. This is music that you won’t hear elsewhere—like the old trio songs that my parents used to love….Then you have individuals like myself that appreciate listening to it because it reminds me of my parents.” Also, “with the radio station, I hear [the younger generation] using their Spanish a little bit more, and even appreciating their Spanish music a lot more than they used to.”

Radio Centro broadcasts from Downtown Lancaster and reaches as far as York. In the future, the station hopes to expand its coverage, and continue cultivating Hispanic and Latino culture in Lancaster City and beyond.

The month of March is a crucial time for Radio Centro in raising support for their operations as a public broadcasting station. For more information about Radio Centro and how you can support their programming, visit www.wlchradio.org.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Specter says he won't switch parties

A March 17 posting at www.TheHill.com , "[Senator Arlen] Specter won't rule out run as an independent" goes on to say "Sen. Arlen Specter said Tuesday that he will not run for reelection in 2010 as a Democrat, but might run as an Independent....

"'I’m staying a Republican because I think I have a more important role to play there,' he said. 'I think the United States very desperately needs a two-party system. … And I’m afraid that we’re becoming a one-party system, with Republicans becoming just a regional party.'”

$5,000 interest free loan for city home buyers

At today’s County Commissioners’ Meeting, the Countywide Redevelopment Authority was authorized to amend its contract with the Lancaster Housing Opportunity Partnership (LHOP), allowing the provision of $300,000 in LHOP assistance funds to City homebuyers.

Under the new arrangement, LHOP funds can now be accessed for homes within the City limits.

Previously, if the County’s portion of Federal homebuyer assistance funding was not fully expended within the County itself, the remaining funds could not be applied within the City. According to Matthew Sternberg, Executive Director of the Lancaster County Redevelopment Authority, “That did create the situation where there was funding available on the County side that could not be used for qualified residents on the City side, even in situations where those residents may have originated from the County.”

LHOP lends as much $5,000 interest-free to first-time homebuyers of low to moderate income. Before qualifying for these funds, individuals are walked through a 10-hour Homebuyer Education course to discuss all of the financial obligations associated with home-ownership.

Essentially, this amendment was introduced because “activity in the City, while slowed by the recession, outpaces the County” (Resolution No. 11 of 2009). Commissioner Craig Lehman commended this amendment, stating, “For me, this a very thoughtful approach in basically trying to address demand.” LHOP expects the monthly disbursal of two to three loans in the County versus five to six loans in the City.

For more information regarding LHOP, visit their homepage at www.lhop.org. (Please note that the site is not yet updated regarding the inclusion of City homebuyers.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Lest we forget. A past cry for criminal investigation

Editor's note on letter reproduced below: In 2006, the three members of the Convention Center Authority wrote to the district attorney and asked his assistance in obtaining access to information concerning what conmprised over $7 million in invoices from the law firm of Stevens and Lee. Ted Darcus, Chair, gave ongoing litigation as the reason for withholding the information. With litigation ended for several months, NewsLanc has asked the Authority for access to the billing information under the State's Right To Know law. The Authority has failed to deliver the documents even after a 30 day extension to which it was entitled and has requseted another 30 days to decide what it will do.

September 12, 2006

Hon. Donald R. Totaro
County of Lancaster
Office of the District Attorney
50 N. Duke Street
Lancaster, PA 17608

Subject: Suspicious expenditures by Lancaster County Convention Center Authority

Dear Mr. Totaro:

The undersigned -- Deb Hall, Jack Craver, and Laura Douglas -- serve on the sevenperson LCCCA board and have been blocked by Chairman C. Ted Darcus and Executive Director David W. Hixson in performing our oversight responsibilities.

Our specific concern here is that we have become aware that almost $7 million in legal fees have been paid to the law firm of Stevens & Lee over several years on the basis of over two-hundred invoices with no additional information attached than "For professional services rendered on behalf of the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority."

On June 7, 2006 I wrote on the behalf of the three of us to Chairman Darcus requesting that the process of validating payment to the law firm be placed on the agenda for discussion at the June 8 meeting.

The matter did not appear on the agenda for the June 8 meeting. Mr. Darcus commented that the request had not been submitted in, what he considered a timely manner. At that meeting I, therefore, requested, publicly, that the item be placed on the agenda for July’s meeting. Mr. Darcus, however, suggested that I could move that the item be added right then to the current meeting. I did so. Then, at Chairman Darcus's urging, though without any further explanation, the Board voted not to place the matter on that evening’s agenda. Nor was it added to the agenda of the June 13, 2006 special meeting.

On June 27, 2006, I once again wrote on behalf of the three of us to Chairman Darcus and again requested the matter be placed on the agenda for the July 13, 2006 meeting. Despite the ample notice, especially since the meeting was rescheduled for July 27, 2006, I received no response and the matter was not placed on that agenda nor on the August 14, 2006 (postponed from August 10) agenda.

Under any circumstance the expenditures of so much taxpayer money should be cause for
careful scrutiny. The recent controversy pertaining to Stevens & Lee’s billings to the County for the Conestoga View Nursing Home underscores our concern. It is clearly in the public interest that our Board discuss whether the Stevens & Lee invoices are being properly verified in a normal business manner.

The LCCCA has spent almost $19 million dollars of taxpayers' money to date. The refusal to permit even a discussion of how the money has been paid raises serious questions about the propriety of those expenditures.

I want to emphasize that, at this juncture, the issue is the unwillingness of Chairman Darcus to permit a discussion of the matter, not whether the current procedures are correct. Since Chairman Darcus and the other board members cannot possibly know what questions and constructive suggestions we may have based upon information so far at our disposal, there can be no possible justification for, but only suspicions about, the gagging of our legitimate requests.

Therefore, we ask that you expand any investigation of billings by Stevens & Lee pertaining to Conestoga View to billings of Stevens & Lee pertaining to the LCCCA and, if no investigation is currently taking place, that you initiate one.

_________________________ ____________________ ___________________
Debra A. Hall Jack Craver Laura Douglas

Copy: Tom Corbett
Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General
16th Floor
Strawberry Square
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Cc: C. Ted Darcus
Joe Morales
Willie Borden
D. M. Schwanger
David Hixson
John Espenshade

Enc. Email: Deb Hall to Ted Darcus, et al. 6/7/06 Accounting Audit of Legal Services
Email: Deb Hall to Ted Darcus, et al. 6/21/06 Requests for itemized invoices
Email: Deb Hall to Ted Darcus, et al. 6/28/06 Agenda Request

Surplus funds not being used to replace electronic voting machines

At today’s Planning Session, the County Commissioners approved an amendment to Lancaster's agreement with the PA Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation regarding the disbursement of funds from the existing Help American Vote Act (HAVA). The Federal grants were originally slated to last through 2009; however, with the US Congressional Elections approaching in 2010, the County has moved to extend the agreement to June 30, 2011 to employ $34,031 of unused HAVA funds.

Mary Stehman, Chief Clerk of the Registration and Elections Department, explained the remaining funds would be applied toward HAVA-designated services such as polling place accessibility; training of election officials, poll-workers, and election volunteers; and educating voters concerning voting procedures, voting rights, and voting technology.

When asked by NewsLanc whether any of these funds may be used to replace a number of electronic voting machines without verifiable paper trails that were bought used by the former commissioners , Stehman said that the remaining $34,031 is not earmarked for such expenditures. Stehmen noted that such considerations are not yet mandated by law, and would have to be addressed “down the road.”

Cork Factory Hotel to open soon downtown

According to magazine web site Small Market Meetings: "The 70-room Cork Factory Hotel is scheduled to open this summer in downtownLancaster in a converted industrial building. The Cork Factory will have4,000 square feet of meeting space, and is part of a resurgenence that includes the new Lancaster County Convention Center and the Marriott Lancaster at Penn Square."

Another LCCCA questionable expenditure

Sixth in a series by Jim Sneddon

During this NewsLanc investigation, a review of thousands of documents often revealed things happening behind the scenes that were never made public.

There were times when set dollar amount contracts also grew. One was with as E4 Exchange of Lancaster.

The company was hired in conjunction with a Consortium established in the summer of 2004 by the Pennsylvania Dutch Country Visitors Bureau, the Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Company of Lancaster County and the Authority.

When Tom Baldrige, director of The Chamber, contacted David Hixson, LCCCA Executive Director, about hiring E4 and sharing the costs 50-50, Hixson agreed. The Letter of Agreement from Lois Dostalik, President and CEO of E4, was signed by Beckett and Hixson. The fee for the 12-month engagement was $48,000, meaning the Authority was responsible for $24,000.

By the time the year was over, however, the Authority had been billed, and paid, $69,696.

E4 was to design Consortium meetings and provide facilitation assistance. It was to “Design the Project Management Plans.” This included the four Consortium members, but “in addition we will develop a written list of detailed responsibilities for the Mayor and the County Commissioners,” Dostalik wrote.

Communications were important according to the Agreement. The contract language spelled it out: “This includes ensuring that key messages are shared at the right time, using the appropriate communication style.”

Apparently communication with the Authority board was not important. The agreement was never brought to the board for approval. No board member ever raised a question about why they were paying E4 during the monthly “Pay the Bills” votes at the Authority meetings.

The first invoice for $15,934.20, dated Dec. 29, 2004, was almost quadruple the monthly figure quoted in the agreement. Included in the invoice was a note reminding that the Authority had agreed to 50% of the costs. The invoice added that “as these services are not included in the August 26 Letter of Agreement, it is understood an addendum will be issued no later than April 2005 to reimburse the original project.”

There is no record of Hixson bringing “an addendum” to the Authority for approval. No copies of an addendum were included in this investigation’s right to know request for copies of all contracts.

The Consortium didn’t last long.

By July 2005 the “plug had been pulled.” In an e-mail to Hixson, Baldrige wrote that the Chamber paid a $3,600 retainer fee to E4 Exchange. It also paid $11,100 to be placed into escrow by E4 to cover the first three monthly costs as per the contract. Baldrige noted, however, that only $3,720.68 in expenses was actually billed, but he wanted his 50%.

“In trying to close out the effort, I was wondering if you would still be willing to cover the 50% of the expense as per our original agreement? That would amount to $1,860.34.”

Hixson agreed and told Baldrige the payment would be on the July “Pay the Bills.” According to the records. the check was approved by the Authority board.

What is unclear, however, is whether the full $69,696 was paid only by the Authority, with nothing coming from the Chamber. The Authority was billed that amount and the board approved checks totaling that full amount. There is no evidence, in reviewing the Authority’s account statements from Sovereign, that there were any deposits from the Chamber indicating a reimbursement for its 50% share.

Unused school facilities may be taxed next year

At today’s County Commissioners’ Planning Session, the Commissioners granted a $1,800.91 tax exoneration for three properties owned, but not actively used, by Manheim Township School District (MTSD). A tax exoneration is essentially a de-facto exemption that must be specially granted for a property that does not formally qualify for tax-exempt status.

As explained by Dee Dee McGuire, Lancaster County’s Director of Property Assessment, a property must be utilized for actual school purposes to maintain a tax-exemption. The properties at 15, 49, and 313 Valley Road, however, are not currently occupied in any such manner: “For lack of a better term, they purchased [the properties] and they’re sitting on them, waiting to decide how to use them,” said McGuire.

Currently, these three facilities sit vacant on parcels adjacent to Manheim Township High School. According to McGuire, the District has no concrete plans in motion to put these buildings to use. MTSD had requested exonerations for two of these buildings in recent years, the longest running of which has been exonerated since 2005.

Before granting this year’s request, the Commissioners expressed their desire to see these School-owned properties put to legitimate use. Commissioner Craig Lehman gently asserted, “Maybe next year we won’t say yes” if a plan for the properties is not developed.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Local news and comment web sites

Courtesy http://lookingatlancaster.blogspot.com/

Since you are reading this, you are already aware that the Internet offers the opportunity for individuals and groups to publish and widely distribute local news and commentary in ways that would have been impossible only a few years ago. LookingAtLancaster.com is only one out of a number of sites that offer alternatives to the mainstream media. With few exceptions, these are a labor of love, created and maintained not for profit but out of a concern for our community.

These independent news and opinion sites often publish information that is neglected or ignored by the local newspapers and television stations. Occasionally, independent sites have broken important stories long before the print or broadcast media. At other times, when the mainstream media has intentionally distorted the "news" in a way to serve their own interests, alternative news sites have been the only way for the public to get the facts, often obtained directly from the sources and parties involved.

Below is a brief description of a few of the most popular independent Web sites and alternative news sources which have made an impact on Lancaster. There are other sites online which discuss local issues; some of these are independent, others represent specific groups or organizations. This article does not include online forums, where people have the opportunity to discuss the issues of the day; that topic is deserving of an article of its own.

NewsLanc.com clearly stands out as a real alternative to the mainstream media. Managed and funded by Robert Field, a locally based apartment and hotel developer , NewsLanc.com has a full-time reporter dedicated to local issues, in addition to contributions from volunteers. NewsLanc.com has broken a number of stories, most notably about the public library. This site has also been publishing an in-depth investigative series about the hotel and convention center project; these articles have publicly revealed the misuse of millions of taxpayer dollars, an issue which has been intentionally neglected by the mainstream local media. NewsLanc.com has the potential of becoming serious competition to the local newspapers.

LIP News (www.lipnews1.com) is an alternative news and opinion site operated by Becky Holzinger. LIP News has revealed a great deal of information about issues neglected by the mainstream local media, most recently concerning the Roseboro/Funk murder case in Denver, as well as the abuse of a female minority suspect by male officers in New Holland. Becky Holzinger's commentary can be controversial, but it is always well worth reading.

Unfortunately, a number of once-prominent local sites are no longer being updated on a regular basis.

Lancaster First (LancasterFirst.org) began life as the online voice of the Lancaster First ad-hoc community group. LancasterFirst.org became a news site in its own right, breaking a number of stories about the hotel and convention center project in downtown Lancaster. This site is no longer updated on a regular basis, but recently has posted several significant additions. LancasterFirst.org will continue to be maintained as an archive of potentially valuable information for the foreseeable future; for example, this site is the ONLY place where the agreements and other documents governing the hotel and convention center project are available online.

Lanco Yokels (lancoyokels.blogspot.com) USED to be a source for the some of the most astute commentary about Lancaster County which was available anywhere. Unfortunately, its author apparently suffered from burn-out, and only a placeholder for the site remains. Some of still hold out hope that Lanco Yokels will return some day.

The granddaddy of all the local alternative news sites, and the one which has had the greatest impact, is 5thEstate.com. No longer being updated, the site is being maintained as an archive. 5thEstate.com was a labor of love by local activist Ron Harper Jr., who for seven years single-handedly took on the Lancaster establishment. 5thEstate.com has had a tremendous impact on Lancaster: one state representative, several district justices, and a number of constables were forced to resign as a result of articles which appeared there. A school superintendent was revealed to have misused his authority for his own personal gain, for which he later served time in prison, because of information first made public on 5thEstate.com. Other revelations posted on 5thEstate.com resulted in dramatic changes in how the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority conducts its business in public. Even the local newspapers have improved their reporting after being scooped repeatedly by 5thEstate.com.

Unfortunately, 5thEstate.com eventually became too much for one person to handle by themselves. Ron Harper Jr. took on a partner, and together they founded the Lancaster Post (LancasterPost.com). For six months, both online and in a print edition, the Lancaster Post provided an outstanding weekly news and commentary alternative to the mainstream media. But when financing became an issue, the Lancaster Post ceased publishing, and the partners went their separate ways. LancasterPost.com is still online, and all of its editions are still available for download. There is no word if or when LancasterPost.com will resume publishing.

The Internet provides more opportunities for individuals and groups to reach others than at any other time in history. For example, LookingAtLancaster.com is hosted on Blogger, a free blogging service from Google (the search engine masters). The domain LookingAtLancaster.com is forwarded to lookingatlancaster.blogspot.com, where its articles actually reside. Anyone can open a Blogger account for free, and start posting almost immediately. Blogger is easy to use, easy to customize, and requires little knowledge about the Internet to use. Who knows: it is entirely possible that someone reading this article will start a site that eventually becomes a major influence within Lancaster County.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

EDITORIAL: TheTruth Is Out!

"We were hoping to get more funding than we did in 2008," Rosser-Hogben said. "And with the economy doing a downturn, the board felt — and I fully supported — that it just wasn't the time to continue on with it."

Those are the startling words of retiring Director of the Lancaster Public Library (Duke Street) as published in the March 13 Intelligencer Journal.

Rosser-Hogben acknowledges she helped bring about the last minute switch of board members from unanimous support for remodeling and expanding the library to the last minute aborting the project despite financial arrangement with the State and encouragement and assistance from the mayor and other governmental officials.

The money for the renovation was almost certainly available. The expectation of later funding for the 18,000 square foot expansion was excellent because a federal recovery bill with funds for "shovel ready" public projects was on the horizon.

But remodeling a library while it remains in operation is a huge undertaking for a director, requiring tremendous effort, leadership and long hours. Rosser-Hogben could have stepped aside and made way for someone eager and perhaps experienced to do the job. There was ample time to find a qualified successor.

Rosser-Hogben was unsuccessful in generating a successful fund raising program, a task foreign to her experience and skills. Nor was she receptive to advice from pros. Most of the major non-governmental funds received in recent years have been from the book sales, ably led by former library president Pat Ditzler, a source on the board, and bequests from parties virtually unknown and unsolicited.

Perhaps her failures in that area brought about an irrational sense of panic. But leading members of the Lancaster community and a a professional fund raiser to be engaged for the campaign would have been heading up the effort.

Rosser-Hogben's last minute influence over inexperienced board members not only led to a rejection of a million dollars (plus another $500,000 if needed) of funding for the project and over four hundred thousands spent on plans, but brought a halt to over a hundred thousand dollars a year of contribution from a board source that, among other things, had funded essential repairs and the expansion of the public computers by 50%.

Furthermore, the library's feasibility study (another $30,000) indicated twice the financial support from the community that was required to close the gap ($1,300,000 at the most and only $800,00 if need be) for renovating and remodeling, and this was before asking the County Commissioners for a cent!

It was understandable that Rosser-Hogben would not care to take on the burden of managing the library through a period of major renovation during operations. She had indicated in the past a desire to resign. She had an entire year to help make the transition to a director perhaps experienced in renovations and fund raising.

Is our publisher bitter that Rosser-Hogben withdrew her support of the project at the last minute? Absolutely. Thirteen hundred people a day are deprived of a remodeled central library and the expansion which the community so needs.

NewsLanc wishes Rosser-Hogben well in her future career and thanks her for accomplishments in some areas, and her knowledgeable assistance in planning for the renovated and expanded facilities.

But we are glad to see her move on.

Friday, March 13, 2009

CC: A $32,000 'ounce of precaution'!

At Thursday's Lancaster County Convention Center Authority (LCCCA) Board Meeting, the Capital Budget was strategically increased by $32,040.00 to obtain a third-party assessment of the Hotel and Convention Center’s critical life safety systems (Fire Protection, Fire Alarm, and Smoke Exhaust among others.)

As Kevin Molloy, Executive Director of the LCCCA, explained, "We have contractors who are finishing these systems. They are not ready to be turned on right now; and simultaneously, we want someone to review this … [and] say 'we're ready.'" The goal is to avoid wasted time and expense in the form of system glitches down the road.

The third party engineers review plans, inspect installations, and are present when the systems are initially put into operations. The firm chosen is especially experienced with the higher than normal standards required by the Marriott Corporation.

Molloy recounted a consulting session held with a highly-experienced developer. After initially recommending a third-party assessment, the developer had told Molloy, "This is your insurance policy. Because if you don't turn it on, some of those challenges can take a week, two weeks, a month, or a couple of months, and you wouldn’t want it."

When an element of the life safety systems malfunctions during the formal inspection by authorities, a delay in making repairs and obtaining another inspection can prevent the entire project from starting business for days and even weeks, thus costing tens of thousands of dollars and possibly forcing last minute cancellations.

Vice Chair Laura Douglas commented that such precautions will also be valuable in maintaining repeat visitors to the center: "It's the critical path to having a second chance of getting business; because if you blow it the first time out, then they’ll never come back."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

It's not just the $200 million

Walking around the block before attending Thursday's special Convention Center Board meeting, an observer experienced first hand the barrenness of the first block of South Queen Street.

Most of the west side of the block is fronted by the unbroken wall and windows of the Lancaster Newspapers building. A few shops make up the rest. The east side is the Convention Center, extending from King Street downhill to Vine Street.

Even if the center lives up to the hopes of its sponsors, there will be no activities at least half of the days of the year, perhaps two-thirds. So a "no man’s land" will exist between Penn Square, the very heart of downtown, and the southern part of the city. It is unlikely that even hotel guests will want to venture onto the block.

Had the proposed alternative mixed use plan prevailed of a high rise condominium with offices, boutiques and cafes, the sidewalks would brim with people, even into the late hours of the evening, and on weekends until the early morning hours.

Such an active block would have spread downtown commerce and gentrification to the Seventh Ward.

The observer, experienced in developing communities, grieved over the missed opportunity as he continued to the LCCCA meeting.

Prince Street Cafe major downtown draw

By Cliff B. Lewis

In late 2005, Keith and Crystal Weaver; Dave and Carol Witmer; Kevin and Valentina Weaver; and Ed and Joan McManness all put their heads together: "We all had a very common vision," Crystal Weaver explains, "and that was to provide a place where people could come hang out and not feel like they just needed to move along…. We wanted a place that was well-done, that felt like someone had put some time, energy, and quality into it."

Ever since the Prince Street Cafe's opening in August of 2006, this vision has been tremendously successful. People often ask Weaver if business has dropped in the current recession, but the fact is the Café just experienced its busiest winter yet: "It's been on the incline ever since we moved in. I don’t think we’ve leveled off. I keep thinking, 'By now the hype should be over and it should level off…' But things haven’t slowed down yet."

Another early purpose for the Cafe was to bring more people Downtown, "for people outside the city to come in and start to feel comfortable in the city and feel safe in it." Weaver, who was raised on a farm in Centerville, said that most of the people she grew up with were afraid to come Downtown. Today, Weaver estimates that her Lancaster City business receives more than half of its traffic from people outside city limits.

According to Marshall Snively, Deputy Director of the James Street Improvement District (which includes the Downtown Investment District), the city has collected a younger, more "hip" crowd in recent years. The pattern cannot be directly traced to the arrival of the Prince Street Café, but the Café's success is certainly emblematic of the trend.

For Lancaster's city-goers and city-dwellers, the Prince Street Cafe provides a winning combination of quality and affordability. It isn't the quintessential "Ritz," but it isn't a hole-in-the-wall, either. Although the concept of affordable quality appears obvious enough, Weaver believes this is something that the city could use more of: "I think there’s a need for a place that is mid-range—nice, but not really expensive."

It took eight owners and a great idea to start up Lancaster City's Prince Street Cafe—a business that now stands as a parable to how a strong vision can go a long way when enough people put their heads and wallets together. And, after all, isn't that what cities are all about?

The Café is located at 15 N. Prince St and is open from 6:30am to 11pm on Monday through Thursday, and perpetually from 6:30am Friday to 3:30pm Sunday.

Lancaster Public Library (Duke Street) director resigns

NewsLanc has confirmed the resignation of Debra Rosser-Hogben the Executive Director of the Lancaster Public Library (Duke Street), which is not to be confused with the Library System.

John McGrann, President of the Board, confirmed that Rosser-Hogben's last date will be April 3rd. He said that the board is currently in the process of determining what their next steps will be, and it is too premature to comment on plans for a new executive director.

Rosser-Hogben had made a significant contribution to the planning for the aborted remodeling and expansion of the Duke Street facility, although not necessarily an advocate for proceeding at this time. Of course, the decision lay with the Board.

An able administrator, Rosser-Hogben had little background or success in overseeing fund raising. Weight may be given to finding a candidate with strength in that area in selecting a successor.

Earlier this year Karen Haley Field stepped down as president when the board rejected plans to move ahead with the remodeling project. She remains on the board as treasurer.

Subsequently, representatives of Lancaster General Hospital and Fulton Bank became board members, strengthening the boards experience and ties to the community.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Library System Administrator seeks League support

In a letter to The League of Women Voters, Susan Hauer, Administrator Library System of Lancaster County, disclosed:

"The 2006 per capita expenditure for library services from County funding is the lowest of the surrounding Counties. Lancaster/$4.89; York/$5.66; Berks/$8.08; Bucks/$8.67; Adams/$10.35; Cumberland/$13.40; Chester/$14.33; Dauphin/$15.72."

She describes how "The media has been filled recently with stories of increased library customers and funding cuts from all levels of government and private donors."

She then challenges the mind set of the current Board of County Commissioners by claiming that "...they have no mandate to support library services in the County. That is untrue due to a 1997 County Resolution and unfair to a democratic society that demands free public library services in return for their hard earned taxes. "

Hauer requests that "the League continue to follow and support the Library System and member Libraries in our efforts to attract appropriate funding for Library Services in Lancaster County" and "encourage candidates who are seeking public office to include appropriate funding for libraries as part of their platform."

Chaotic funding of county libraries

Until recently, Manheim Township was served by under 2000 square foot rented facility on Granite Run and was a branch of the Lancaster Public Library , which has its main facility on Duke Street in the City of Lancaster. At the Monday Township commissioners meeting, $7.6 million was budgeted for a 20,000 square foot new library with a 9,000 square foot basement, about half the size of the downtown facility.

For 2009, Manheim Townshp has budgeted $8 per capita ($269,475) towards library operations.

In comparison, the City of Lancaster has budgeted $1.77 per capita ($100,000).

Another branch of the Lancaster Public Library (LPL) is located in Mountville and serves Mountville - $5 per capita, and East Hempfield Township – only $1.12 per capita.

In total, the average appropriation from LPL's service area embracing fourteen municipalities and serving 187,788 county residents is only $1.56 per capita. For the entire county, all 60 municipalities, the per capita appropriation for library services for LPL's three branches and the other regional libraries is only $2.88 per capita.

Manheim Township can afford to build and support a library and is to be commended for its solid support of public education.

However, the City can only afford meager annual assistance and nothing towards remodeling and expansion of the Duke Street facility.

The funds that would have enabled the remodeling and expansion at LNP's Duke Street branch had been promised by the state and local benefactors, although some county contribution was anticipated. (Millions of dollars of promised earmarked state funding were redirected at the last minute to offset cost overruns for the Convention Center Project.)

The above suggests all the more reason for a county wide Library Authority and a small county real estate tax, perhaps a quarter of a mill. These two reforms, conforming the administration and funding of countywide libraries with how successful library systems operate elsewhere, would assure that all children and adults throughout the county improvement and recreation.

Lancaster Square demolition behind schedule

At Tuesday's City Council meeting, Mayor Rick Gray reported that the Lancaster Square demolition project is two weeks behind schedule.

He said certain problems in the original structure were discovered that will require the installation of supports. This could result in around $80,000 worth of additional work.

Lancaster Catholic in Regional Finals

For the Regional Mock Trial competition, Lancaster Catholic defeated York Catholic on Tuesday in what a local observer described as a "clear victory."

Strong on arguments, York faltered on technicalities, failed to object even once, and stumbled over cross examination of a witness.

Lancaster Catholic, which squeaked by McCaskey on a split decision for the county championship, now moves on to the Regional Finals on March 18th in Harrisburg. If they win, they proceed to the statewide competition.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Castration by consent when all else fails

Given the considerable interest by the New Era and a portion of the Lancaster population concerning sexual predators, we offer the following excerpt from the March 9 New York Times without taking any position:

"The Czech Republic has allowed at least 94 prisoners over the past decade to be surgically castrated. It is the only country in Europe that uses the procedure for sex offenders. Czech psychiatrists supervising the treatment — a one-hour operation that involves removal of the tissue that produces testosterone — insist that it is the most foolproof way to tame sexual urges in dangerous predators suffering from extreme sexual disorders. "

City grants SACA $200,000 for River Plaza planning

By Cliff B. Lewis

Lancaster’s Spanish American Civic Association (SACA) was granted a $200,000 boost from the City tonight for their proposed Conestoga River Plaza on a 5.7 acre riverside tract near the intersection of Chesapeake and South Duke St., adjoining the Lancaster County Park.

The grant will be used towards a six-month design and engineering phase for the commercial, residential, and environmental aspects of the prospective project.

Carlos Graupera, SACA’s Executive Director, expressed to the Council that this planning phase would aim to gather good ideas and reject unfeasible ones: "It will try to rule out all those things that will not work—that are not feasible—in the vision." Graupera also mentioned that the development process will involve an opportunity for neighborhood residents to share their ideas and concerns for the project.

After completion of the design and engineering phase, the plan will be submitted to the State for environmental clearance. The site, upon which presently stands the abandoned Miguel’s Nightclub, was once used as a landfill and an auto-parts dump; however, Graupera indicated that early analysis has shown that the site should be safe for development.

The Conestoga River Plaza proposes to include a bank, a community grocery store, retail stores, a full service restaurant, gallery and performance space, and townhouses along the river.

According to SACA’s website, the Plaza is intended to "begin a process of economic development in the southeast quadrant of the city of Lancaster that will create new investment, create jobs, and stimulate this long neglected quadrant of the city to become a vibrant part of the Lancaster community with its own unique cultural and ethnic flavor."

The John F. Steinman Foundation allowed for the site to be put under an option agreement. Funding from the Foundation allowed also for the Phase I and II environmental studies to occur.

The Community First Fund, the High Group, and the City of Lancaster were all part of the financing package that allowed for settlement to proceed.

More information about SACA’s plan for the Conestoga River Plaza can be found at

SACA serves growing Latino community

Over one third of Lancaster’s population is Latino, a diverse Spanish-speaking group of cultures and nationalities. The stated mission of the Lancaster’s Spanish American Civic Association (SACA) is “to foster and facilitate the cultural, social, civic and economic development of the Latino Community of the City and County of Lancaster through the provision of human services, employment and training, and behavioral health services.”

According to Allison Weber, SACA’s Director of Community Relations & Education, Latinos have been drawn from nearby metropolitan areas: “Once you have a burgeoning culture here, we get the services: We have a lot of good Latino restaurants, we have employers who hire a lot of Latino people, for this size community we have a lot of non-profit agencies. So it just may be that things are more accessible.”

The avenues through which SACA pursues its mission are as creative and diverse as the community it serves.

The headquarter at 545 Pershing Avenue on the Southeast End of the Lancaster City houses the largest senior center in Lancaster County, and provides breakfast and lunch to senior citizens and the homeless. On a chilly Thursday morning, around 9am, the center is already bustling with activity. Dozens of visitors socialize in the high-ceilinged atrium while, beyond a wide set of glass doors, a large group of senior citizens enjoy breakfast in the cafeteria.

Other services provided by SACA include:

- WLCH Radio Centro (91.3 FM), broadcasting Spanish educational and culture programming 18 hours a day
- Employment Desk, connecting workers with prospective employers
Career Development & Training, and Adult Education
- YouthBuild, a “leadership development program for young adults that provides educational (GED) classes, construction training, volunteer service opportunities, case management, career preparation, individual support, and graduate follow-up”
- HIV/AIDS & HepC Services
- Behavioral HEALTH Services, including
- Nuestra Clínica Behavioral Health Services
- Mental Health & Drug and Alcohol
- Outpatient Programs
- Adolescent Counseling and Therapeutic Services

In the near future, SACA hopes to begin broadcasting a new Spanish Public Television station in the Lancaster area. The organization has already obtained the necessary licenses and much of the necessary equipment. Grant funding stands as the only significant hurdle to bringing Spanish educational programming to the airwaves in Central PA.

To learn more about Lancaster’s Spanish American Civic Association, visit

Monday, March 9, 2009

Recession impacts apartment complexes

In the past year, most major apartment complexes in Lancaster County have experienced a moderate rise in vacancies.

To attract prospective tenants, some especially hard hit local apartment complexes are offering several weeks of free rent and have minimized security deposits. One is providing up to $500 in free prizes at an upcoming open house.

Other complexes have reduced the amount of annual rental increases or eliminated them altogether.

Typically, when the housing market slumps, the rental market jumps; but this widespread recession—with its under-valued real estate, scarcity of jobs, and stifling effect upon consumer buying habits—has not left American apartment complexes unscathed.

Between September and December, national occupancy rates dropped 0.7%, not much in comparison with the rise of unsold home, but yet significant.

Some apartment renters are moving out to take advantage of lower house prices. On the other hand, “empty nesters” who would like to move into an apartment are unwilling to sell their homes at today’s prices.

One apartment owner opined that a certain amount of “doubling up” is taking place, thus shrinking both the house and apartment markets.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Convention Center Revenue: A Guessing Game

Courtesy of http://www.lookingatlancaster.blogspot.com/

Any project that involves cash flow needs to have a business plan. This includes the taxpayer-financed convention center project in downtown Lancaster.Unfortunately, the few convention center revenue projections released to the public seem to be a part of some kind of guessing game.

One of the first "pro-forma" projections available was a in a presentation to the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority board on February 22, 2006. The projection of first full-year revenue was estimated to be $1,272,799.

The only estimate of convention center revenue to be widely distributed was published in the Lancaster New Era on Thursday, June 14, 2007, page A4. It projected the first full year of operation would generate $1,577,000 in gross revenue.

The first revenue projection available to the public from Interstate Hotels and Resorts, the joint manager of both the hotel and convention center, was created on November 6, 2007. At this point, IHR was using a "stub" year for 2009, from the opening of the convention center until the end of the calendar year; this estimate was $971,636 for nine months - roughly in line with the February 2006 projection.

Late in 2008, IHR switched to a fiscal year, to align their operational budget with the long-established fiscal year used by the LCCCA. In November of 2008, IHR released a projected operating budget for Fiscal Year 2010 (April 1, 2009 through March 31, 2010). This document included figures from a "pro-forma" dated February of 2008; at that time, convention center revenue for the first full year of operation was estimated to be $1,149,267. But as of November of 2008, the anticipated first year's gross income was down to $957,840.

At the LCCCA Public Relations, Marketing & Hospitality Committee meeting held on Thursday, February 19, 2009, IHR presented its latest estimates of operational income for the convention center. At that time, the total projected revenue of the first full year of operation for the convention center was down to $514,935, or less than a third of the amount published in the local newspapers in June of 2007 (only twenty months earlier). The February 2007 IHR presentation also included the amount of revenue booked to date.

As of the date of this presentation, IHR had commitments for five trade shows, matching its latest goals, and eight consumer shows, out of an updated goal of eleven. It is highly unlikely that a significant number of large events will be added at this late date. Where bookings have fallen short of goals is in "other" events, which could be anything from a wedding reception to a conference; so far, only eleven have been booked, out of a goal of 52. It is possible that more of these types of events will be booked, but the goal appears unreachable.

Consequently, the total amount of revenue contracted to date is estimated to be only $235,886, or only 15% of the amount published in the newspaper during June of 2007.

If revenue from the "hotel tax" would have continued at the rate estimated in late 2007, there should have been enough money left after construction bond payments to balance the budget. However, "hotel tax" revenue during 2008 fell nearly 5% below the previous year's receipts through November, the last month currently available. (It is worth noting that both September and November had revenue shortfalls of more than 25% over the previous year.) Figures for 2009 are not yet available, but as the recession has deepened, the dramatic decrease in "hotel tax" income during late 2008 is likely to continue.

To make matters worse for the LCCCA, market rates have at times been outside of the range allotted in the construction bond sale's interest rate "swap". This has already cost the LCCCA tens of thousands of dollars beyond its budget for bond payments.

What does this mean for Lancaster County taxpayers? It is entirely possible that the LCCCA will not collect enough money from the "hotel tax" and convention center revenue combined to cover its bond payments and operational costs. This means that a tax increase of some kind will be inevitable, whether in the "hotel tax" (which is limited by State law) or in Lancaster County property taxes, perhaps as soon as next year (2010).