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Construction Underway in Downtown Wilkes-Barre

Published: Saturday, January 22, 2005

Updated: Friday, December 26, 2008 15:12

"Revitalizing downtown Wilkes-Barre" may soon be a phrase of the past as construction begins and a new face to the city emerges.

Currently, fences surrounding the sidewalk of the east side of South Main Street around the corner to Northampton Street are a visible reminder to all who pass by that progress is indeed underway. According to Larry Newman, Executive Vice President for the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry, the "theater project" is much more than simply a theater. The 14-screen theater anchors a mixed-use infill project plan that also includes the renovation of six historic buildings, and the creation of 25,000 square feet of street retail, twenty-eight loft apartments, and eighty-five parking spaces. The movie theater project is expected to reach completion by the end of 2005 and many community leaders and business owners are hopeful is will be the spark that reignites economic and social life in the downtown area.

"The whole point is not to build a movie theater, but to create an urban setting where people want to be, and where pedestrian traffic is encouraged," Newman said.

The previous location for the theater, commonly referred to as the "theater hole," will now become the home to a new $9 million, three story office building for the Pennsylvania Labor and Industry and a new public parking garage. Construction on that building complex has already begun since a court order halted construction of the theater at South Washington Street in January of 2002.

According to a December 17 press release from Congressman Kanjorski's office, he and Mayor Tom Leighton announced progress on several major projects which are expected to stimulate more than $100 million in public and private investment in downtown Wilkes-Barre. This includes more than $6 million in federal funds for an Intermodal Transportation Center that is key to the completion of the new Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry building. The Intermodal Center, which will be located on South Washington street adjacent to the Labor and Industry building, also will serve as a bus terminal and taxi hub.

The Riverfront Development Project, which is part of the $200 hundred million federal flood control levee, is also progressing. The nearly $30 million project for the Susquehanna River and the River Commons area will include walking trails, a 1.2 acre plaza, a fishing and boating pier, and an amphitheater for outdoor festivals and performances. Construction is expected to begin in 2005, with the most visible work to be underway the following year.

Development along the riverfront is closely tied with the revitalization of the Hotel Sterling, being undertaken by City Vest, a non-profit community development organization that purchased the Hotel Sterling in 2002. City Vest recently named three finalist architectural firms, that will compete in a twelve-week competition to design the hotel's renovation into office, residential, and retail space. The renovation is expected to cost more than $20 million.

"Many of these projects have been on the planning books for years, but 2005 is the year we are going to see visible progress in downtown Wilkes-Barre with more than $100 million of public and private construction underway. We have a strong team in place, and we are doing some great things to improve the quality of life for the people who live and work in the City of Wilkes-Barre," Congressman Kanjorski said.

Wilkes University has close ties to all of the construction projects going on downtown since all the projects are with in a two block radius from campus. President Joseph E. (Tim) Gilmour is excited about the construction taking place.

"Wilkes-Barre is at an exciting point in its history. There are no certainties here, but I can envision and address many of the economic, social and public services and infrastructure issues revitalized Wilkes-Barre in ten years that is a delightful place to live. It will be focused on the colleges, a vital arts community, professional organizations such as major law firms, companies that add high value to the economy and the high end, specialized retail and restaurants usually associated with such developments," Gilmour said.

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