The new Lancaster Marriott at Penn Square and Lancaster County Convention Center, considered one of the most important economic development projects in Central Pennsylvania in decades, is a uniquely integrated facility anchoring historic Penn Square in Downtown Lancaster, Pa. The convention center and 299-room hotel offer luxurious accommodations and a combined 90,000 square feet of meeting space and the latest technology for conventions, events, and trade shows. High Associates Ltd. served as the master developer for the project and High Construction Company served as the general trades contractor. This $177-million landmark facility boldly incorporates the 110-year-old Beaux Arts façade of the former Watt & Shand Department Store as well as other historic structures in and around its contemporary new architecture—a commitment to the region’s history and cultural fabric that was integral to this project from the very beginning.
History of the commitment to and re-emergence of this treasured landmark
In 1998, three local business and civic leaders—Dale High of the High® companies, Jack Buckwalter of Lancaster Newspapers, and Rufus Fulton of Fulton Bank, whose companies together have centuries’ old, firmly established roots in the Lancaster community—agreed to purchase the former Watt & Shand Building from the Bon-Ton. The building had been shuttered and unused for several years and was in the process of being sold through a sherriff’s sale. These three individuals agreed it was important to the community that the century-old landmark, referred to as "the heart and soul" of Lancaster, be saved and repurposed for future generations. The property had been identified as one of the critical elements of a forward-looking comprehensive plan for Lancaster to continue its history of growth and vibrancy as an urban center.
Presenting the compelling historical importance of its region
Today the brand new facility pays remarkable homage to regional and American history, incorporating historic structures and narratives within and around its new architecture. Under the leadership of the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County (HPT), a water-collection cistern was unearthed and preserved during construction that had once been part of the Kleiss Tavern owned by influential Congressman and abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens. In the Vine Street entrance area to the facility, guests will behold a view of the preserved cistern, believed by scholars and archeologists to have been a hiding place used by Stevens and business partner Lydia Hamilton Smith to assist Americans escaping slavery along the Underground Railroad. The venue has been named a key site of Pennsylvania’s Quest for Freedom trail, which honors the sites and stories of the African American journey to freedom from the time of the Underground Railroad and Civil War to the present day. Eventually the overall project, which from inception held a vision of incorporating the unique historical fabric of Lancaster, will offer a 20,000-square-foot, $20-million interactive museum, the Stevens & Smith Historic Site.
Lancaster as a destination
Appealing as a world-class facility set in a smaller, less expensive urban destination, the facility is centrally located to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and New York. The venue offers space for groups up to 5,000 and includes a convention and exhibition hall, two grand ballrooms, and finely appointed meeting and board rooms.
From bustling farmers’ markets to scenic rural landscapes populated by the nation’s oldest community of Old Order Amish, Lancaster offers a range of family-oriented activities and "country-life" experiences. But there’s another side as well—a sophisticated urban center that offers dozens of well respected art galleries and exquisite fine dining and shopping. And as one of the largest National Historic Register Districts in the country, it offers hundreds of well preserved historical landmarks. Visiting architects and planners, in fact, have noted favorable assessments of the sense of place it offers, including that Lancaster "is the kind of place other communities are trying to create."
About ownership of the integrated facility
The Lancaster Marriott at Penn Square is owned by the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Lancaster and leased to Penn Square Partners—which includes Penn Square General Corporation, an affiliate of High Real Estate Group LLC—the private company that holds the Marriott franchise. The Lancaster County Convention Center is a publicly owned entity under the direction of the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority.
About Interstate Hotels & Resorts
Interstate Hotels & Resorts operates the Lancaster Marriott at Penn Square and the Lancaster County Convention Center facility and is the nation’s largest independent hotel management company. For more information about Interstate Hotels & Resorts, visit the company’s Web site at www.ihrco.com.