The Lancaster County Convention Center Authority is putting the historic Swan Hotel in downtown Lancaster on the market, packaged along with air rights to authority parking lots near the hotel site.
Proposals to purchase and redevelop the hotel at 101 S. Queen St., that dates to the early 1800s and has been vacant since 1995, will be accepted in a six- to 12-month process that is expected to result in new ownership, according to Kevin Molloy, the authority’s executive director.
The authority is also selling the air rights to 10 E. Vine St. and 106 S. Christian St., which are adjacent to the Swan. Those are currently surface parking lots the authority uses for the convention center. Air rights would allow a developer to create a structure that leaves most of the surface lot available for parking. The air rights and hotel are being sold as a package.
The Swan Hotel has been vacant since 1995. It operated as a tavern for much of its history. The convention center authority, which has owned it since 2003, wants to sell it to someone who can develop it and the air rights of the other lots into businesses that will complement the convention center.
Molloy said that could include entertainment, dining or a boutique hotel, but the authority is open minded about the possible uses for the property.
“Things that play well next to a convention center would be ideal,” he said.
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Redeveloping the Swan as a brewery or live music event space was a top priority in a strategic plan for the neighborhood surrounding the convention center, completed earlier this year by a consultant hired by the convention center authority.
The report by CSL International noted that similar convention centers have attractions with bowling alleys, movie theaters and arcades nearby.
The current zoning for the property allows a hotel or entertainment venue. In the central business district where it is located, there are no minimum parking requirements.
Intersection undergoing transformation
At the intersection of South Queen and Vine streets, which is undergoing a drastic transformation, the idle Swan is a notable exception.
Southern Market, on the southwest corner, has been revitalized as a food hall. The Stevens-Smith House, surrounded by the convention center at the northwest corner, is slated to become a new museum operated by Lancaster History. At the northwest corner, Willow Valley has proposed Lancaster city’s tallest building, Mosaic, scheduled to begin construction next year.
Molloy said the authority is not in a position to develop the property itself. While conventions have bounced back since the pandemic, it remains focused on operating the center.
“We cannot weaken ourselves by getting into another development at this time,” Molloy said.
Molloy said that including the air rights with the hotel increase the project’s economic development potential, while maintaining a parking lot along Vine Street which is needed to park trucks and trailers that supply conventions at the center.
“If you’re trying to provide an economic benefit for the community, you want to come up with as big of a project as you can for the community, or at least a size that fits our community,” Molloy said.
The building would require a full renovation of the interior. Molloy said its utilities have been turned off for years.
The convention authority spent $60,000 on a renovation in 2016. It included replacing the building’s roof, and removing facades that were added by previous owners in order to reveal the original brick exterior, which was also repointed.
Should the authority find a buyer, it would be the second deal in downtown Lancaster involving air rights in recent years. In April 2022, LNP | LancasterOnline reported that developer Eberly Myers had struck a deal that could give it air rights for the space over the Red Rose Transit Authority’s Queen Street Station Parking Garage at North Queen and East Chestnut streets for $790,000.
And it appears that one of the first, if not the first, air rights deal in the nation took place in Lancaster city in 1798. In that year, an agreement between the Masonic Lodge and the borough of Lancaster called for the construction of the Masonic Hall on West King Street next to Old City Hall with arches and pillars to support a market house below. The Masons would pay for and control the space above the market, but the borough would still have control over Market Square and the market space beneath.