WILKES-BARRE — The Jewish Community Alliance of Northeastern Pennsylvania approved a plan to pursue a new campus in Kingston during its board meeting on April 18.
The plan recommended by the alliance’s real estate committee calls for the creation of a new campus facility at 601 Third Ave., Kingston. The 13-acre parcel is valued at $3 million and will be donated by Project Home Run LLC, according to Paul Lantz, president of the JCA board.
The real estate committee’s March 2013 report suggested the campus as a solution to the shrinking population of the area’s Jewish community — down from 5,000 in the 1970s to about 2,150 today — and infrastructure repairs at existing facilities that have lagged due to cost. Relocating the campus to the Kingston area also makes it more accessible to the majority of the community’s membership.
More than 100 members of the Jewish community met behind closed doors on April 8 to offer input on the proposed plan, Lantz said. During its meeting last Thursday, board members addressed those concerns, including adding financial thresholds that a future capital campaign must meet before construction could begin.
The resolution was adopted last week by a 12-1 vote with one abstention. Board members Lantz, Charles Cohen and Robert Friedman, who are the three principals behind Project Home Run, recused themselves.
The plan, as approved, calls for the alliance to renovate the existing Third Avenue structure to house all its agencies and the United Hebrew Institute, while adding a gymnasium and pool. The design phase should “begin immediately,” the resolution notes, but construction will not begin “until the community has firm commitments for at least 80 percent of the project costs.”
Additional phases of the project include inviting the area’s three largest synagogues to relocate to Kingston and developing a long-term plan to generate profit from the remainder of the property or house new agencies that fit the Jewish community’s overall mission.
The real estate committee previously rejected plans to either repair or redesign the existing Jewish Community Center facility at 60 S. River St., Wilkes-Barre. “We’re going to offer it for sale,” said Lantz. “It’s a great property that’s along the river bank. It’s got parking, so it’s a valuable commodity in downtown Wilkes-Barre.”
There are many emotional reasons to keep facilities and services in Wilkes-Barre, said Lantz, but the Kingston location was the strongest choice in financial terms.
“A lot of people grew up in the JCC, and they want to maintain that. There is (emotion) with any move,” he said. “The trade-off of the size of the lot and the fact that we could put a whole community campus here is a huge difference.”