In Downtown Scranton Residential Boom, No Sign Of Slowing

Picture 062Four years ago, there was no residential life along the unit block of Franklin Avenue. By the end of this year, more than 55 apartments could be located along Franklin, between Lackawanna Avenue and Spruce Street.

“It’s about quality of living,” former Mayor Chris Doherty said earlier this month before he left office. “I said from the beginning, fail or success, we will go after downtown living.”

Scranton building contractor and redeveloper Art Russo bought into Mr. Doherty’s concept and his latest downtown project is one of his largest.

He is constructing 21 apartments on the three upper floors at the Bittenbender Building, a four-story, 48,000-square-foot structure at 126-132 Franklin. A sports bar, seafood restaurant and speakeasy-themed jazz club will occupy the 9,000-square-foot first floor.

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/business/in-downtown-scranton-residential-boom-no-sign-of-slowing-1.1615299

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As Scranton Mayor, Doherty Leaving, His Mark Affixed

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lackawanna County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lackawanna County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For an evaluation of Mayor Chris Doherty’s 12 years in the top city job, listen to his chief critic.

“Overall, the mayor did a very good job. He had a vision for the city and, by and large, I think he fulfilled that vision,” city council President Janet Evans said.

This is the same Janet Evans who spent the better part of her 10 years as a councilwoman ripping Mr. Doherty for one shortcoming or another at weekly council meetings.

Not that Mrs. Evans is done criticizing. She still thinks Mr. Doherty borrowed too much money, should have negotiated contracts with the city’s police and firefighter unions instead of fighting a losing and costlier arbitration battle and needed, in his later years, more experienced cabinet members.

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/as-mayor-doherty-leaving-his-mark-affixed-1.1608177

Businesses Worry Over Scranton’s Deepening Financial Crisis

Between sips of soda at Sal’s Pizza on Linden Street, Nick Noll recounted his time as a Scranton business owner.

His business, Keystone Granite and Marble, was on Diamond Avenue in Scranton but moved to Old Forge earlier this year as he saw deepening financial problems and grew tired of the business privilege tax.

“As soon as I moved to Old Forge I felt like I received a raise,” Mr. Noll said. “It no longer became a question of whether or not I should pay my taxes or take my family on vacation.”

Mr. Noll said the increase in the gross receipts tax proposed in the city’s revised recovery plan from 0.75 percent to 1 percent is “counterproductive” to bringing business back into the city.

Read more: http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/business/businesses-worry-over-deepening-financial-crisis-1.1354898

Developer Charlie Jefferson: A Driving Force Behind Scranton’s Downtown Renaissance

 Connell Building exterior

My trip to Scranton included meeting and touring with Charlie Jefferson, along with Mayor Doherty.  Charlie is a Scranton developer who has a passion for his work and a desire to see Scranton blossom.  Charlie is responsible for the dramatic transformation of the Connell Building.  Charlie, like Mayor Doherty, is very down-to-earth and approachable.

Charlie took us inside the Connell Building.  The eight-story building sat vacant for 10 years before being developed.  The building’s occupancy rate was about 20 percent for ten years before becoming vacant.  Now there are 89 new 1 – 2 bedroom, market-priced, luxury loft apartments.  The building has been beautifully restored, while maintaining historical integrity and bringing the building up to code.  Every loft is rented.  There is a waiting list!  I have no interior pictures of any apartments because there is no model and Charlie was unable to contact anyone who might have let us tour and photograph their apartment home.  Maybe next trip!

The bottom two floors of the Connell Building will be used for commercial/retail/office.  This will be a great example of mixed-use development when this part is finished.  Charlie said he is working with a grocery store to move into the building along with other tenants to fill the remaining commercial/retail/office space.  Imagine the convenience of going down an elevator to the grocery store.  No driving, parking and traffic!  City living at its finest!

Another nice feature of the Connell Building is the attached parking garage.  Secure garage parking is available to all the residents of the Connell Building if they choose to rent a space.

Over 50% of the Connell Building’s tenants are new residents to Scranton and Lackawanna County.  There is a growing segment of people who want to live in a redeveloped heritage property.  These people are usually well-educated professionals who want the best urban living has to offer.  There are looking for walkable downtowns with fine restaurants, shopping, cultural events, services and entertainment.  Concentrated pockets of people in a downtown, with disposable income, will greatly increase the customer base for stores, restaurants and other businesses in general.  This phenomenon is not necessarily limited to the 20’s – 30’s demographic.  There are more middle-agers and seniors who want to sell the house, downsize and become urban dwellers entering this emerging market.

The Connell Building’s first tenant is a grandson of the building’s original owner.  He was very excited to see his family’s former building redeveloped and wanted to be part of the renaissance in Scranton.

Charlie’s newest project is the redevelopment of the former Chamber of Commerce Building, not far from the Connell Building.  The building is now vacant.  Like the Connell Building, the old Chamber Building was constructed during Scranton’s King Coal heyday.  It is very opulent.  Charlie plans to do the same thing with this building as he did with the Connell Building.  It is expected that Scranton will need 600 more apartments/condominiums in the next 5 years because of the medical college and spin-off development.  If the law school becomes a reality, that number will substantially increase. 

Charlie took us inside the old Chamber Building and we poked around.  Structurally it is in great shape and ripe for development.  The building has amazing architectural features and many of the apartments will feature spectacular views of downtown Scranton.  There will be balconies!  This project will rent out quickly because of the location and unique features of the space.  The success of the Connell Building has paved the way for further mixed-use development downtown.

I am looking forward to the completion of Charlie’s newest project.  It promises to be amazing.

Having a great developer, like Charlie Jefferson, to work with is a huge part of the redevelopment process.  Mayor Doherty has surrounded himself with some very competent people to help turn his vision for Scranton into a reality.

 

Chamber Building pictures below, currently vacant awaiting development!

Scranton: Northeast Pennsylvania’s Economic Growth Engine (Part Two)

(Continued from yesterday’s Part I below)

I asked Mayor Doherty if the population decline in Scranton was a concern and was he focused on trying to reverse it.  The mayor said the population is growing and becoming more diverse.  There are now two dozen languages being spoken in the Scranton School District and over 70 ESL teachers.  When the mayor took office ten years ago there was one ESL teacher in the school district.  I recently read that the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre metropolitan area is the least diverse of any metropolitan area in the United States over 500,000 people.  It would seem this may be changing.

We talked about the significance of what having a medical college and possibly a law school would mean for Scranton.  Bringing in and retaining college educated people will help stop the “brain drain” and grow a population with more disposable income.  This in turn fosters economic development and reduces crime.  Medical schools and law schools bring a certain amount of prestige to any city lucky enough to have one.  Perception is a hard thing to change.  These types of accomplishments will tangibly demonstrate that Scranton is not a rust-belt, blue-collar, post-industrial casualty.  Instead, Scranton has pulled itself up by its bootstraps and seeks to reclaim her proud heritage and rightful place as an economic powerhouse in Pennsylvania.

With a new governor in Pennsylvania things will most likely change.  Ed Rendell was a friend to Scranton and poured $140 million into the city for economic development.  Governor Corbett is still an unknown, only just taking office.  Many who received funding from Rendell are worried that money might be harder to come by under Corbett.  The good news from Scranton is private sector funding for economic development has reached a level that will sustain Scranton in the event that money from Harrisburg dries up.

One of Mayor Doherty’s mottos is “invest in yourself”.  Two examples of this are the restoration of the municipal building lobby and fixing the broken “Scranton The Electric City” sign that is perched atop on of the city’s taller buildings (pictured above).  The mayor feels strongly about the message neglect, disrepair, messy, dirty and cluttered can send to residents and visitors.  The first-floor lobby area in the historic Municipal Building was cluttered with soda/snack machines and was in need of a major spruce up.  The mayor did just that.  (While I was waiting outside the mayor’s office, I took a picture of the lobby because it was so impressive – see Part I photos).   The “Scranton The Electric City” sign had been broken for decades.  Now the sign lights up every night and makes a positive statement about the Scranton of the present, while honoring the city’s past accomplishments.

Having frequent events is an important tool Scranton uses to promote itself, attract tourists and prospective residents.  Scranton has a huge list of events like First Night, St. Patrick’s Day Festival (3rd largest in the U.S. and draws 150,000 people), La Festa Italiana (draws another 150,000 people), Komen for the Cure (10,000 people), Steamtown Marathon (2,500 people), Scranton Jazz Festival and the Pages and Places Book Festival.  These events are helping to make Scranton a “destination”.

My last question to Mayor Doherty was “What has been your greatest challenge?”  His answer was “changing the way people think”.  People need to believe that things are possible instead of falling into the “it can’t be done here”, “it will never work”, “we can’t afford it”, “we never did it that way before” and the litany of excuses to maintain the status quo.  The status quo is why Scranton hit bottom and had 22 empty building in its downtown. 

Mayor Doherty has a vision for Scranton and is undeterred by criticism and negativity.  Nor is he content to rest on his laurels.  He always has future projects on the back burner and showed me some of them while we walked.  The mayor is taking the revitalization of Scranton one project, one building at a time. 

I will share one last thing Mayor Doherty said to me, which is important to always remember.  These things take time.  It took seven years to get to the Connell Building project completed.  Construction took less than one year.  All the planning, committees, red tape etc… took six years.  Rome was not built in a day and neither will Scranton (or any other city) be magically revitalized.  The mayor has accomplished all these things over ten years.  It takes a dedicated team of people to make all this happen.  It also takes someone like Chris Doherty to lead the team with a positive, can-do attitude, a never give up mentality and most of all a healthy dose of patience.

The Electric City has a bright future and is poised to again become one of Pennsylvania’s most vibrant and important cities. 

 

Scranton PA – Electric City Building Boom Defies The Recession

Scranton

Image via Wikipedia

Normally, when we think of boom towns, Scranton is not generally at the top of the list.  For decades Scranton has struggled with declining population and employment, as the area dealt with the death of “King Coal” and huge manufacturing losses.

Yet despite a major nationwide economic downturn, Scranton is in the middle of a building boom.  Another unusual factor is that this boom is primarily in center city.  Most cities are not seeing growth in their downtown areas.  Usually growth is occurring in the suburbs.

There are four major projects being built in Scranton that total more than $260 million dollars!  That’s not a small chunk of change for a city of 72,000 residents.  Heck, that’s not a small chunk of change for a larger city!

The projects include:

Construction of the Commonwealth Medical College – $120 million dollars

Several building projects at the University of Scranton – $116 million dollars

Connell Building renovation – $23 million dollars

Tobyhanna Army Deport Federal Credit Union headquarters construction – $4 million dollars

This is encouraging news for NEPA!  1,400+ workers in the building trades are finding employment during this frenzy of activity in Scranton.  These employers will add permanent jobs that will continue to benefit Scranton for years to come.