To fill a newly vacated corner on Wilkes-Barre’s South Main Street, city officials issued a call for developers to pitch proposals for its reuse, saying they intend to choose the “best fit.”
What that winning entry might be remains anyone’s guess. But we couldn’t resist some speculation and the chance to daydream about what sticks to the drawing board.
First, however, here’s what you should know about the process. A screening committee will review the developers’ responses, if any, which are due about one month from today — on March 6. The plan must meet city council’s approval. Ideally, the city will attract someone committed to constructing a multistory building that will be partitioned for multiple uses, such as a restaurant or retail space on the first floor, with upper levels reserved for offices or residential units.
Respondents who eye the empty site at the corner of South Main and West Northampton Streets, where a contractor razed a couple of condemned buildings late last year, are asked to consider questions such as this, according to the city’s request for proposals:
“How will the proposed development fill in the ‘missing links in the chain’ and provide stronger pedestrian connections between South Main Street’s retail and restaurants, Movies 14, Wilkes University’s campus, the YMCA, downtown’s new lofts, and the River Common?”
For starters, we have to mention the obvious “missing link”: a small-scale grocery.
Most downtown residents and outside observers can agree the neighborhood needs a nearby place to stock up on fresh produce and other foods. Unfortunately, the city apparently doesn’t meet the criteria required for popular retailers such as Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s to open shop, according to the powers that be. That does not necessarily mean, however, a lesser-known market or a health food store couldn’t fill the niche there and succeed.
Our hearts naturally vote for an entertainment venue.
How about an arthouse cinema — a complement to the downtown’s existing multiplex that shows films for the masses? That would reinforce the notion of this area as a destination, a hub for cultural activities. A poetry house, perhaps?
Our stomachs ache to be satiated with burgers, or maybe burritos.
How about a Five Guys Burgers and Fries? Moe’s Southwest Grill? Chipotle Mexican Grill? Mmm, White Castle sliders.
Our spirits call for something unexpected, even off the wall.
A laundromat with attitude, perhaps one based on an environmentally friendly theme with built-in juice bar. Or a duds-and-suds place, where you can enjoy a beer while waiting for the spin cycle to end.
A first-rate salon?
Alas, our brains question whether this is an exercise in futility. Well-intended suitors have been unable to find occupants for the so-called University Corners complex immediately across the street. Plenty of other downtown sites, including several former banks and a just-closed bistro, await new tenants. And the snow-covered lot where the Hotel Sterling once stood awaits its next purpose.
We hope the city draws many viable proposals by early next month for its South Main Street corner; officials are dangling big tax breaks to make the prospect more appealing for would-be developers. We wonder, however, at what cost to taxpayers who have done the heavy lifting for many public projects and for the city’s ongoing operation.
If it turns out this latest project is a bust, and no viable takers emerge, the city’s economic gurus might consider it a sign: Rather than offering a new space, it’s time to offer a new strategy.