Expect the Public Square portion of Wilkes-Barre to become a more peppy place.
Foot traffic on Main Street likely will increase next month, thanks largely to the King’s College acquisition and makeover of a former hotel in the city’s hub – a $17 million project notable for both its speed and its sensitivity to the community’s aspirations, including paying respect to local history.
Separately, a spate of apartment and condominium projects are in motion, converting empty office space into coveted downtown residential units. And, not to be overlooked, Boscov’s department store will boost its appeal to shoppers with a major renovation topping out at $1 million or more.
Good things definitely are taking shape downtown.
Granted, they might not be happening as quickly as planners envisioned, but, then again, a recession like the one that struck the nation from 2007 to 2009 tends to put most everyone’s plans on hold.
Before the downturn, the city’s hub already had several important building blocks in place: a movie theater, an innovation center, many professional offices and an increasingly rich mix of restaurants and retail shops.
One early piece of the puzzle: a Barnes & Noble bookstore made possible through a collaboration between Wilkes University and King’s. Both institutions continue to show a commitment to making their respective campuses – and the surrounding neighborhoods – safe and pleasing places to be.
In its latest effort, involving a renovated building to be called “King’s on the Square,” the private, Catholic college appears to have taken into consideration a range of wants and needs. An estimated 500 students will be centered at the facility, many of them focusing on topics related to exercise science, physician assistant studies and athletic training.
The building’s first floor will include a student dining room and adjoining outdoor patio. Its uppermost levels will serve as student housing, capable of accommodating about 200 residents. Floors three through five remain mothballed, with no purpose yet announced. (We still vote for adapting it as the college’s volunteer headquarters, flanked by offices than can be leased to some of the Wyoming Valley’s social service agencies.)
Cleverly, King’s College officials decided to blend the building’s practical uses with some public – and sure to be popular – ones.
More than 200 paintings by Dallas-based artist Sue Hand that memorialize the area’s coal mining heyday are expected to be on permanent display in a first-floor corridor. Plus, plans call for a tribute to Father Joseph Murgas, a priest who served in the city and became a pioneer in wireless communication. There might even be a place for Mr. Peanut, the top hat-wearing logo of the Planters company that got its start on Wilkes-Barre’s center-city streets.
As longtime residents know, Public Square has never been a static place, but rather shaped and reshaped to suit the times.
Give King’s College credit for going beyond what was necessary, or expected, to help keep the city’s core bustling.