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10 Year Wait Continues for $174.4 million Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Convention Center & Hotel Opening

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

Apr. 30, 2009--A decade ago when plans for a Lancaster County Convention Center were proposed, backers cited the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce & Industry's annual dinner as the kind of event that could be held in a new city center.

So it was expected the chamber's high-profile spring event -- featuring an internationally known speaker each year -- would be held in the new center.

This year? Not happening.

On Wednesday, the builders of the combined $174.4 million convention center and Lancaster Marriott at Penn Square hotel announced the opening is again being delayed.

This time, no anticipated opening date was announced.

Project officials said this morning they are doing everything they can. There are between 250 and 275 construction workers working 12-hour shifts on the site six days each week. Many contractors and subcontractors have not kept promises and have missed deadlines, they said.

Today, the chamber was scrambling to find a site to accommodate its expected 2,300 dinner guests. The 137th annual banquet was scheduled to be held in the center May 26.

"We've definitely been in solution mode and looking at all the alternatives that we have," chamber Vice President Cheryl Irwin said today.

Texas oil billionaire and energy guru T. Boone Pickens is scheduled to be this year's featured speaker.

The Housing Development Corporation, which also planned an event at the center, wasted no time in switching venues. HDC was to hold its May 13 "Faces of Affordable Housing" dinner in the center.

The nonprofit organization announced Wednesday the dinner has been moved to the ballroom of the Lancaster Country Club.

"The Lancaster Country Club is an exquisite location and we are very grateful for their willingness to work with us at this late date," HDC President and CEO Michael Carper said in a prepared statement.

Earlier this month Josh Nowak, marketing director of the combined center for management company Interstate Hotels & Resorts, reported to the Lancaster Convention Center Authority board members that the earlier opening delay had resulted in the loss of $16,000 in revenue.

The center was earlier slated to open in late March. That opening was pushed to April 21. Then the facility was to open May 8.

Nowak this morning would not give a number of events this morning that had been scheduled in the hotel and center in May. He said it was premature to estimate the revenue loss because some of those events may be rescheduled.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Convention Center Authority and hotel developer Penn Square Partners issued a written statement that crucial "critical path items" had not yet been achieved.

The facility has not received the certificate of occupancy from city inspectors. The certification is a milestone in the construction schedule. With it, hotel and center staff can begin training in the building, said Tom Smithgall, of the project's master developer, High Associates, and a vice president with hotel developer Penn Square Partners.

To get the certificate of occupancy, the building's safety systems, such as fire alarms and its smoke exhaust system, must be functioning and the building's entrances and exits must be clear.

Smithgall said he is "cautiously optimistic" the building will get the occupancy certification in May -- "conditioned that everybody performs on the dates that they have given us."

Once that happens, employee training should take a few weeks, he said.

Smithgall stopped short of saying that timetable would put the opening in June. He deferred that question to facility General Manager Mark Moosic, who did not return a call for comment this morning.

"They owners are doing everything they can to get the date set and get the facility open," Smithgall assured.

The 300-room 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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