Consultant: County saves money moving operations out of downtown York

York County taxpayers may save money if the county government moves out of downtown York.

Consultants with Cumming Construction Management on Monday presented York County Council with four options for building a new county administration building, three of them near the site of the current office building along South Congress Street, in the heart of downtown. But the site with the best price tag, consultants said, would place most county offices on the periphery of the county seat – and save almost $1 million.

That idea has received pushback from the city of York, its residents and downtown businesses, who worry that losing county employees – and potential customers – would harm downtown’s vitality.

Cumming looked at three options for building downtown: behind the Agriculture Building, on the parking lot or on a lot at the corner of Jefferson Street.

Also considered was a “Government Center West” near the corner of Arrow Road and Alexander Love Highway. Constructing an 83,000-square-foot building on that site would cost an estimated $22.9 million, while the cheapest of the other three would cost $23.7 million.

James Britton, a consultant with Cumming, told the council that the Arrow Road property, which is owned by York Electric Cooperative, would provide workers with more space in which to work; there would be about 15 acres, versus the 3 or 4 acres at the downtown site. All of the proposed buildings, however, have the same square footage.

Britton also said that any downtown location would limit future expansion of a renovated county courthouse, and during construction it would displace parking spaces and even some staff offices.

Building a downtown site at Congress and Jefferson would be the next cheapest option at $23.7 million. Erecting a structure on the Ag Building parking lot would cost $24.2 million. Construction behind the current building – which because of the landscape, Britton said was “not viable” – would cost $24.7 million.

The Arrow Road site would also be closer to the east side of the county, where most of the population lives.

The council voted to defer making any decision on the site until its March 2 meeting, but there was still plenty of discussion Monday night.

Several residents spoke about the harmful effects they fear would result if 160 county employees are lost from the downtown business district. York-area Councilman Robert Winkler even made a comparison to plans for Rock Hill’s Knowledge Park.

“We’ve been looking at a (tax) district to help a blighted area of Rock Hill. Let’s not create a blight on downtown York,” Winkler said.

The motion to defer action passed 6-1, with council Chairman Britt Blackwell voting to move forward with the decision.

Blackwell said plans to renovate the county courthouse will keep activity in the heart of downtown, and the county ultimately has to consider the cost benefits for the whole county.

“We’re the York County Council, not the town council of York,” he said. “Eighty percent of the population lives outside of this area.”

York Mayor Eddie Lee said he and the city council have tried to express their concerns about moving administration out of downtown but have not gotten much of a reply from York County Council.

Lee said the city council sent a letter to Blackwell on Oct. 9 notifying him that the York Electric property had been zoned “agricultural” by the city, as well as stating a preference for the new county headquarters to be built downtown near the historic courthouse, on or near the site of the current Agricultural Building. The city never received a response, Lee said.

“There are about 44 different businesses that will be affected by not having the county administration downtown,” Lee said. “These are little mom-and-pop businesses.”

If the county council does ultimately approve the Arrow Road site, Lee said the city’s zoning rules would hamper the plan moving forward.

“I seriously doubt the York City Council would approve a zoning change for the co-op property,” the mayor said.

In addition to housing the county manager’s staff, the planning department and the assessor’s office, the new government center will also host future county council meetings.