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$174.4 million Lancaster, Pennsylvania Convention Center & Hotel Opening
Delayed Once Again
, 10 Year Wait Drags On

By Bernard Harris, Lancaster New Era, Pa.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

May 7, 2009--People who went to the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority meeting Wednesday hoping to hear an expected opening date left disappointed.

Developers of the $174.4 million city meeting center and hotel came close -- suggesting a mid-June opening was possible -- but a week after announcing the latest delay, again declined to give a specific date.

Everything hinges on the project passing a long list of inspections and receiving a certificate of occupancy from Lancaster City.

When the owners of the complex have that certification in hand, center and hotel staff can be trained and ready for opening in 2 1/2 weeks, said Mark Moosic, general manager of the combined facility.

Tom Smithgall, representing project master developer High Associates, said he was fairly confident the certification could be received by May 29. That would allow for an opening in mid-June.

"My goal is to have it done by the end of the month -- all of it," said Smithgall while standing at a podium addressing the convention center authority board.

"They all need to be done by the 21st," interjected Tim Sullivan, of Reynolds Construction Management.

Smithgall was questioned whether those expectations were realistic after missing earlier opening dates of March, April 21 and, most recently, May 11.

"These are the dates that our contractors have provided to the team and our construction manager has provided to the team, and these are the dates we are working with," Smithgall responded.

About 60 people attended the meeting, including several members of the media and several people who have opposed the public-private partnership in the 10 years since it was first proposed.

Convention Center Authority Chairman Arthur Morris set the tone of the evening at the beginning of the meeting. Taking a recommendation from board solicitor Christina Hausner, Morris said the intent of the meeting was to learn about the process of getting the certificate of occupancy and obstacles to opening the facility.

They would look forward and not dwell on problems that may have contributed to the delays.

For his part, Smithgall ticked off items remaining on the project checklist. Although the 220,000-square-foot meeting center and 299-room hotel are about 97 percent complete, he said much of the work has to be inspected by various state and local agencies.

Within the next few days and weeks, he said: state Labor & Industry inspectors must test elevators and escalators; city fire officials must test sprinkler systems and smoke exhaust systems; the water system must be sterilized; temperatures must be tested in the industrial-size laundry machines; city health inspectors must test the temperatures of the dishwashers; state Liquor Control Board inspectors must determine that alcohol storage areas meet regulations; PennDOT inspectors must review the repaving of the first blocks of East King and South Queen Streets; and sidewalks around King, Queen and East Vine streets must be completed and inspected.

"This is an ongoing process. It just didn't start last week," Smithgall said of the more than two-year construction project.

Along with the city's certification of occupancy, the other big hurdle for the facility is the inspection by Marriott representatives scheduled for May 21 and 22, said Smithgall.

"Marriott will not let us skimp. It is their name. It is their reputation," Moosic said.

The hotel and convention center project is a joint venture of the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Lancaster, Lancaster County Convention Center Authority and private developer Penn Square Partners.

Penn Square Partners consists of general partners Penn Square General Corp., a High Industries affiliate, and Penn Square Ltd. LLC, an affiliate of Lancaster Newspapers Inc., publisher of the Lancaster New Era, Intelligencer Journal and Sunday News.

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To see more of the Lancaster New Era, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.lancasteronline.com/newera.

Copyright (c) 2009, Lancaster New Era, Pa.

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