WILKES-BARRE — A new look to Pittston's downtown, a new fire station for Hanover Township, a continuation of a Kingston streetscape project and renovation of downtown buildings in Hazleton will each receive $1 million gaming fund grants.
Thirty-seven projects throughout Luzerne County will share in the $12.5 million in funding approved Wednesday at a meeting of the Commonwealth Financing Authority.
The grants are funded by the Local Share Account, which receives gaming money generated by casinos, including Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in Plains Township. They are handled by the Commonwealth Financing Authority, an independent state agency responsible for administering the state's economic stimulus programs.
Joe Moscovitz, Pittston's manager, said news of the $1 million grant is welcome; however, the city applied for $4 million, which will require the city to prioritize projects from the list submitted, he said.
Moscovitz said the city has committed to projects in the downtown and the approved funding will likely be earmarked for the Main Street Revitalization Project. Joe Chacke, executive director of the Pittston City Redevelopment Authority, said he was pleased to see the state's positive response regarding the continued economic redevelopment, downtown improvements and related initiatives. The city will create jobs and the downtown improvements will continue, he said.
Kingston Municipal Administrator Paul Keating said the funding will be “put to good use for the community.” Like Pittston, Kingston was seeking more (just over $3 million) than the $1 million approved, but Keating said the award shows state officials appreciate the direction Kingston is taking.
Since the inception of the program, Kingston has improved public infrastructure, facilities, neighborhoods and places of public interest. Keating said the 2013 projects will continue to build and revitalize in a sequential, planned manner.
“Projects of this magnitude are essential, but yet impossible to fund through general government resources,” he said. “Kingston, like many other local governments, is facing millions of dollars in unfunded pension liabilities starting in 2013. It is imperative to stimulate the local economy by any means whatsoever. Projects like this will avert tax increases or service cuts.”
State lawmakers praised the influx of gaming taxes, noting the money will aid in creating jobs, enhance public safety, improve infrastructure and revitalize aging communities.
“This is all critical to the economic recovery of Luzerne County,” state Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, said. “And funding from the gaming industry has provided us an opportunity to tackle all of these initiatives.
“All of these projects are well-deserving of the state support, and it is my hope that they will attract business and put local residents back to work.”
State Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-Newport Township, Rep. Tarah Toohil, R-Butler Township and Rep. Mike Carroll, D-Avoca, echoed Yudichak's remarks.
Irem Temple missed out
The Greater Wilkes-Barre Development Corp. — an arm of the Chamber of Commerce — did not get its application approved for the former Irem Temple mosque on North Franklin Street. The chamber had hoped to receive at least some of its request for $2.4 million to secure the building and stop vandalism that has contributed to the historic building's deterioration.
“Naturally, we are disappointed,” said Chamber President/CEO Bill Moore. “We realize there are lots of deserving projects out there. We had hoped to get funding necessary to secure the building.”
Moore said he and his staff will begin searching for alternative revenue sources to shore up the building.
“We have to prevent these break-ins from continuing,” Moore said. “They are destroying a jewel in the city's downtown with callous disregard for the historic nature of the building.”
W-B facade program
Drew McLaughlin, Wilkes-Barre's the city's administrative coordinator, said Mayor Tom Leighton was “very encouraged” to learn of the approval of four projects, including Phase II of the facade program.
“Phase I was extraordinarily successful in the rehabilitation of owner-occupied and city-resident-owned properties along our main gateways,” McLaughlin said. “With Phase II targeting important streets in our neighborhoods as well as streets near city schools, this program also puts money into the local economy, keeping people employed and creating new jobs.”