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York College Hospitality students have role in revitalizing Yorktowne Hotel

The project lets students witness a diverse group of experts as they plan and work through a major renovation, and Julie Heisey, Gillian Caplan, and Andrew Fare are making the most of the opportunity.

When they began their hands-on study of the renovation of the Yorktowne Hotel, Julie Heisey, Gillian Caplan, and Andrew Fare had no idea how involved the redevelopment project might be. 

Or that it would require moving tombstones.

The three York College of Pennsylvania students majoring in Hospitality Management are getting a wide-eyed look at the process of bringing the nearly 100-year-old structure back to life.

“When you think about renovation, you think about the finance and hospitality aspects. But there are many additional aspects,” says Andrew, a sophomore from Long Island, New York.

Such as the role of historic tax credits. And grave markers.

The former burial grounds on the property of the vacant Zion Lutheran Church, behind the Yorktowne, are included in the hotel’s expansion plans. The York County Industrial Development Authority purchased the hotel and the church site in 2016.

The graves’ remains were relocated long ago, but the grave markers were left in place.
The hotel redevelopers had to track down descendants and get theirs and the church’s permission to move the tombstones, which are being offered to the families.

“That’s the difference between building a new hotel and renovating an existing hotel,” Andrew points out. “You think it would be easier to renovate, but there are so many challenges.”

Getting a close-up look

The students are observing the engineers, architects, builders, and management personnel who are working to renovate and reopen the grand hotel that has hosted presidents and first ladies, show-business luminaries, sports superstars, and foreign dignitaries.

“I’ve never really been part of something like this before. It’s all new to me, seeing how much goes into the renovation of a hotel,” says Julie, a senior from Harrisburg. “I’ve learned how professionals get together with their ideas and put them all into one.”

Gillian, a junior from Pottstown, has been impressed by the range of experts involved in the project, including the following organizations: the Industrial Development Authority; the York County Economic Alliance; Nutec, which provides design and construction solutions; Kinsley Construction; Susquehanna Real Estate; and BHC architects from Baltimore.

She refers to the coalition as “all the different brains” in the meeting room.

“You think, ‘It’s just a hotel.’ But there are so many people involved,” she notes.

A hands-on project

The students primarily observe the experts as they work their way through the phases of renovation. Classroom experience gives the trio context for the plans they see becoming a reality. But they also will take on a consultant’s role when the professionals hand them an actual renovation problem that they must solve as a team.

That’s something Gillian is looking forward to.

“Since high school, I’ve always liked doing hands-on things, being involved,” she says. “The fact that I’m involved in such a noteworthy project is incredible. I like having my opinion heard and taken into consideration. I know everyone in that room really respects it.”

Andrew says he believes that “getting perspectives from students in college is very important” to the experts.

“We do have different ideas as millennials,” he notes. “We are Hospitality majors and have a mind for the business. We bring that aspect to it, a younger person’s aspect.”

Gaining career experience

Dr. John Hughes, chairman of York College’s Department of Hospitality, Recreation and Sports Management, says the project lets students witness a diverse group of experts as they plan and work through a major renovation. The students are making the most of the opportunity.

“It’s a chance to expand my knowledge and build my resume and my skills,” says Julie, who plans a career in tourism or lodging. “I’m taking what I’m learning in class and applying it to a real situation.”

Gillian has her sights set on working in sales in the hotel industry, something she got a taste of during a summer internship.

“I know I’m going to gain a lot of information and experience from it. I’ve met a lot of amazing people already,” she says.

Andrew spent last summer working at the front desk of a hotel in his hometown.

“I fell in love with the operation side of things,” he says. “I want to be a hotel general manager.”

He calls the Yorktowne renovation “a great project.”

“When I graduate, I can say I not only went to school for four years but worked with these professionals in York County,” he says.