Progress 2015: Wilkes-Barre, Pittston Lead Charge In Revamping Downtown Ecomomic Atmosphere

Shopping outside from store to store has almost become a thing of the past in some areas. But don’t tell that to downtowns in the Wyoming Valley, especially Wilkes-Barre and Pittston.

Downtown shopping in both communities is thriving thanks to the advancements each city has made over the past several years. Couple that with the excitement and enthusiasm of business owners and residents and youv’e got a recipe for success. The success in downtown Wilkes-Barre starts with Public Square.

Downtown Wilkes-Barre Business Association President John Mayday, who is a resident of South Wilkes-Barre and does all of his shopping in the downtown area, said the excitement and enthusiasm is something he hasn’t seen before. And it can only get better, he said.

“New businesses are constantly moving in,” he said. “Our mission is to create the opportunities for our customers and residents to come downtown. They’re been absolutely well-received by the public.”

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Stats Suggest Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Media Market Is Among Nation’s Most Racist

In the anonymous world of the Internet, people in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area and surrounding counties use the n-word in Google searches more often than most areas of the United States, according to statistics compiled by a top data scientist.

The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton media market — which includes Northeastern and Central Pennsylvania along with some counties in New York and New Jersey bordering the region — ranked 16th out of 196 nationwide for frequency of computer users searching the word, the data reveals.

Read the original study

Residents of the media market used the racial slur in online searches more than anywhere else in Pennsylvania except the Johnstown-Altoona media market, according to a study by a data scientist who gathered the information for a 2013 report about how racial animus affected the presidential elections of Barack Obama.

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Wilkes-Barre Among Nation’s ‘Cheapest’ College Towns, According To New Study

WILKES-BARRE, PA — Tuition, books and direct spending aside, Wilkes-Barre is among the 30 cheapest places to go to college nationwide, according to a new analysis. The big reason: Housing is dirt cheap — about 30 percent of the national average.

Wilkes-Barre was 26th in the list, which was topped — or bottomed, cost-wise — by Memphis Tennessee, where the overall cost of living is 26.7 percent less than the national average. Don’t bother asking for the college town with the highest cost of living; the website that devised the list is, after all,

Wilkes-Barre’s overall cost of living was 79.8 percent of the national average, But a look at the numbers under that percentage show we aren’t all that cheap in most categories.

Of six categories used to judge the cost of living, Wilkes-Barre is higher than the national average in four — miscellaneous, transportation, utilities, and groceries — and just under the national average (97 percent) in health costs. But, boy, do we make up for it housing.

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Hughes Named Acting Wilkes-Barre Police Chief

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County

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

Robert Hughes is the acting chief of the Wilkes-Barre Police Department after being appointed Monday by Mayor Tom Leighton.

Hughes, the department’s commander of operations, has been with the department for 25 years, according to a press release from the city.

Hughes replaces Gerard Dessoye, who retired Friday after 33 years to take a security job with King’s College.

King’s College Among Three Interested In Buying Former Springbrook Water Co. Building

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County

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

WILKES-BARRE, PA — King’s College has submitted a proposal to purchase the former four-story Springbrook Water Co. property in Wilkes-Barre from Luzerne County.

The county sought proposals from prospective buyers as part of an initiative to shed unused properties and generate revenue for the cash-strapped county government.

Three entities submitted purchase proposals by last week’s deadline, said county Purchasing Director Mark Zulkoski. County officials say copies of all proposals will be publicly released before county council votes on options.

John Loyack, King’s College vice president for business affairs, confirmed the institution submitted a proposal but said he will leave it up to the county to release of the offered dollar amount.

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In Search Of Progress, Downtown Wilkes-Barre Evolves

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County

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

WILKES-BARRE, PA —In South Main Street’s first block, several storefronts are empty on the east side and recent demolitions on the other side have a dress shop waiting to reopen and a jewelry store working to re-establish itself.

Further down, the building that houses a longtime retailer has been sold and the former Bartikowsky’s building is expected to be soon owned by Wilkes University.

Changes have come to South Main Street — the city’s main retail artery — but sustained progress has remained elusive.

Jim Bellezza, owner of Bell Furniture at 95 S. Main St., purchased the building that houses the Outlet Army Navy Store at 113 S. Main St. for $159,000 on Jan. 3. An empty lot separates the two buildings and Bellezza plans to renovate the building and expand his business.

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King’s Confirms Ramada Purchase

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County

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

WILKES-BARRE, PA — King’s College confirmed Monday that it has agreed to purchase the Ramada hotel property located at 20 Public Square for $2.7 million.

King’s also is seeking $7 million in state funding to purchase and renovate the hotel to accommodate expansion of its physician assistant program.

The college has applied for the funding through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program that is proposed in state Senate Bill 680. The legislation has been approved by the state House and Senate and is now in Gov. Tom Corbett’s office.

If approved, the legislation would provide the project with $7 million in state funding to be matched by the college, making for a $14 million project.

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Ramada Near Deal With King’s College, Sources Say

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County

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

WILKES-BARRE, PA —The King’s College physician-assistant program has attracted several hundred applicants, and the college is looking for space to allow that expansion.

Apparently, that space might be the Ramada Hotel on Public Square.

Although sources said no deal has been struck to date, several indicated that there is a strong interest from King’s in the 105-room hotel that opened in the 1980s as the Sheraton-Crossgates.

Tony Grosek, owner of the Ramada, said he has been talking to college officials about entering into a long-term deal, but Grosek said he couldn’t confirm that anything has been finalized.

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Funds Sought To Restore Wilkes-Barre Irem Temple

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County

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

WILKES-BARRE – The 107-year-old Irem Temple building, a historic landmark on North Franklin Street, once was Wilkes-Barre‘s primary public performance venue.

Today, the once-grand building has fallen into disrepair and has no heat, lights or electricity.  But city and chamber officials are trying to save it.

During a tour by flashlight Wednesday, Ross Macarty, vice president of community development, real estate and special projects for the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry, showed that water damage has taken a toll on the deteriorating building and thieves have stolen copper and brass inside over the past two months.

The Greater Wilkes-Barre Development Corp., an arm of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry, bought the building in 2005 for $992,000, using a combination of federal, state and chamber funds.  The chamber and city are seeking $2.4 million in state gaming funds to bring the building up to code and return it to use.

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Kings College Reopens Today, September 11th

Kings College in Wilkes-Barre, PA will reopen today at noon!  The college evacuated their students and closed in the wake of the recent historic flooding in Wilkes-Barre.  Sunday sports and events are cancelled except for Mass in the chapel at 8 p.m.  Classes will resume Monday.

The City of Wilkes-Barre also lifted their mandatory evacuation order on Saturday for those areas unaffected by flooding.

More Wilkes-Barre/Wyoming Valley Hurricane Lee News

Market Street Bridge

Image via Wikipedia

PPL Electric cut power to the Wilkes-Barre City flood zone at 5 pm today.  This was done to avoid a major power failure.  Water and electricity do not exactly mix well.

The Pierce Street Bridge between Wilkes-Barre and Kingston is closed to traffic along with the 8th Street Bridge, Water Street Bridge, Stone Bridge, and the West Nanticoke Bridge.  The South Cross Valley Bridge has water near the Plymouth Township exit but it open.  The North Cross Valley Bridge is open.  Pictures on the Times Leader website show water getting close to the bottom of the Market Street Bridge at 11 am this morning.  The Market Street bridge also closed last night. To see their pictorial from around Wilkes-Barre, click here:

Kingston has set an 8 pm curfew until further notice.  No vehicular or pedestrian traffic will be permitted after 8 pm.  West Pittston has set an 8 pm curfew until further notice and Edwardsville has set a 9 pm curfew as well.

Another evacuation site is opening at Hanover Senior High School with a capacity of 500. The GAR shelter has reached capacity.  The Solomon Plains shelter may still have room.

Shickshinny evacuated 200 residents.  70 percent of buildings in the borough will be flooded if the river hits 38 feet.

Students at Wilkes University and Kings College were evacuated and the schools closed.

Wilkes-Barre General is open, safe and in emergency mode.  Other WVHCS facilities may be evacuated and/or closed.

Luzerne County has called for the evacuation of 50,000 residents in unprotected areas.

Downtown Wilkes-Barre Becomes A Destination – Kings And Wilkes Play Large Roll

Location of the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre Metropol...

Image via Wikipedia

In 2001, downtown Wilkes-Barre hit bottom.  There was no reason to go there and the merchants who remained wanted out.  Kings College and Wilkes University tried to keep students on campus and played down their downtown Wilkes-Barre locations.  Now, on the verge of 2011, things are reversed.  Businesses are relocating downtown, Wilkes and Kings proudly show prospective students downtown Wilkes-Barre and the downtown is now viewed as a “destination” by Wyoming Valley residents.

How did this miraculous transformation occur?  Four community meetings were held which drew 1,000 people.  These meetings spawned Diamond City Partnership, a public-private alliance for downtown revitalization  After years of hard work and “seed planting” center city Wilkes-Barre is “the place to be” again.

King’s College and Wilkes University have invested over $30 million dollars in downtown Wilkes-Barre by expanding and renovating their campuses.  There are 6,500 students between both schools.  With the abundance of clubs, bars, restaurants, stores, coffee shops, the Kirby Center and a 14-screen Cineplex, downtown Wilkes-Barre is a draw for students and residents alike.  This renaissance is helping the recruitment efforts of both colleges and is attracting new downtown residents who are looking for city-living in a “walk to everything” environment.  More residents downtown will help spur more economic development.

I think this line sums it up.  A visitor at the Kirby Center was overheard saying “Wilkes-Barre?” “Who knew?”