WILKES-BARRE TWP. — Businessman and former race car driver Joe Amato again has added to his real estate holdings by purchasing the largely vacant East End Centre shopping area for $3 million.
And, he said, he already has three tenants lined up for the plaza.
Just weeks ago, Bryn Mawr-based WP Realty Inc. successfully fought for a property assessment reduction from what had been a $10.5 million assessment down to $7.14 million one. Following that reduction, the company sold the property to East End Centre, LP, a company operated by Amato. The deal closed last week.
The 40-acre property that includes two strip centers off Kidder Street houses the Red Lobster, the Old Country Buffet, Serpico Pizza, Deb, Dollar Tree, Ho Yi’s Chinese restaurant, Cosmo Prof Beauty Supply, Big Lots and Happy Nails.
A dozen spaces are vacant in the two strip centers, including those once filled by Price Chopper, the Steve & Barry’s and Dots apparel stores and a Factory Card Outlet store. The former Chi-Chi’s restaurant closed a decade ago.
Amato, reached in Florida, said before he even closed on the deal he was getting calls from interested tenants.
While the Hall of Fame drag racer said he could not announce the tenants yet, he said all three are retailers that would fit in well in this area.
One will go into the old Price Chopper building and would serve as an anchor store for the center. A second would move into the empty Phar-Mor and the third would go into a location that once housed a Beiter’s location.
Amato said if all goes as planned, they’ll all be open by the end of May.
He also said that the old Chi-Chi’s could be knocked down and used as a pad site for another standalone business or it can be remodelled and reused.
East End Centre, LP will pay a combined $163,355 in school, county and municipal real estate taxes on the new assessment of $7.14 million.
The Wilkes-Barre Area School District lost $53,027 in annual revenue from the reduction based on current tax rates, while the loss is $19,628 for the county and $5,466 for the township, records show.
The property is the second big sale for WP Realty in recent months. In December, a subsidiary of WP Realty — WP Edwardsville Associates, LLC — sold the West Side Shopping Center in Edwardsville for $28 million. WP Realty still owns the Valmont Plaza in West Hazleton and the Columbia Mall near Bloomsburg.
While WP Realty is apparently getting out of Luzerne County, Amato is expanding his footprint:
• In 2005, the Moosic resident and partner Joe DelBalso purchased the Gateway Shopping Center in Edwardsville for $4 million.
• Earlier this year he purchased the University Corners complex in downtown Wilkes-Barre for $5 million and renamed it City Centre. The complex, which cost $31 million to build, houses RC Movies 14, multiple restaurants and businesses and vacant retail space.
• In addition, he owns A & A Self Storage in Exeter and is a partner in the Boathouse Bar and Grill in Harveys Lake, which opened last year in the former Dominic’s location at the intersection of Carpenter Road and Lakeside Drive.
“It’s another blighted area,” Amato said of the East End Centre location. “But it’s a growing market thanks to the (Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs) casino. There’s lots of traffic, restaurants are filled.”
But the vacancies could have been avoided, Amato said.
“I think the place wasn’t managed well. Sometimes people from out of town don’t have a handle on what’s going on here,” Amato said.
The property was sold in 2006 for $10 million. Amato said at $3 million, though some work will need to be done, he sees potential for profit.
“We’re not afraid to invest money in something to make it correct,” Amato said. He said it makes it easier to invest in this region because he understands and appreciates its people.
“I believe in this area,” Amato said. “The work ethic is good and you can get good help. It’s not a thriving metropolis but it’s a good area a good market and it’s strong.”