Today, members of the Wyoming Valley’s Jewish community will have a say in its future infrastructure.
A report posted at www.jewishwilkes-barre.org discusses the current state of the community and options for its existing buildings. The report will be presented at a closed-door meeting today at the Jewish Community Center, and input is requested before a final vote is taken.
“What people’s comments are and how many comments there are will obviously have an influence on the final decision,” said Paul Lantz, president of the board of the Jewish Community Alliance of Northeastern Pennsylvania and a member of the real estate committee. “We want to do what is right for the community.
“It’s really not about those of us currently here,” Lantz said. “It’s about our kids and grandkids.”
THE REPORT: The JCA’s real estate committee’s final report states that an aging infrastructure and declining population are the primary reasons for change. The committee was formed in 2009 “to investigate all options for right-sizing and rehabilitating infrastructure.”
“The Wilkes-Barre Jewish community today faces a crisis as critical as the one that we faced in 1972,” the report states, noting the need to rebuild after the devastation caused 41 years ago by the Agnes flood. “We rebuilt and reinvested then, and we can and must rebuild and reinvest now.”
THE CHALLENGES: The area’s Jewish community is faced with a shrinking population — from more than 5,000 in the 1970s to 2,150 today, according to the report — and building repairs have lagged due to cost. The JCC camp at Idetown, for example, will require $500,000 in repairs over the next five years, the report states.
The plan says the community must be welcoming of and sensitive to the needs of the public at large while still maintaining basic Jewish traditions and customs.
THE RECOMMENDATION: The key recommendation is the creation of a new campus at 601 Third Ave., Kingston, that “builds upon the community’s guiding principles and philosophies.” Relocating the campus to the Kingston area also makes it more accessible to the majority of the community’s membership.
The real estate committee previously voted 7-1 with one abstention in favor of the report.
The 13-acre parcel on Third Avenue, which cost approximately $1.8 million and is valued at $3 million, is owned by Project Home Run LLC.
“If the community votes to do the Third Avenue project, the property will be donated,” Lantz, one of three principals of Project Home Run along with Charles Cohen and Robert Friedman, said.
In three phases, the report recommends that the Kingston plaza be renovated to house all JCA agencies, the community’s three largest synagogues be invited to relocate to the new site, and a long-term plan must be created to develop the remainder of the site including a home for new agencies.
Lantz said the boards of each of the three synagogues will have a say on whether they relocate to the new campus.
REJECTED OPTIONS: The plan to repair the current JCC and Jewish Family Service buildings as systems broke down was estimated to cost more than $4 million and thought to have inefficient space and parking for growth.
Redesigning the JCC, 60 S. River St., was projected to cost $10 million and did not include the ability to add synagogues to the site. It also did not allow for all assets of the facility to be on a single floor.
A plan for a campus with a core building twice the size of the nearly 59,000-square-foot facility in the approved plan was scrapped due to cost and the overall goal of shrinking the community’s infrastructure.
WHAT’S NEXT: The JCA board meets later this month, and if the plan is approved at that time, the community could move into the Kingston facility by the end of 2014, Lantz said.
If the plan is rejected, Lantz said the owners will pursue commercial development of the Third Avenue plaza.