WILKES-BARRE — The purchase of the downtown Wilkes-Barre Center office building and adjoining properties accounted for half of the more than $10 million project to bring the corporate headquarters of Berkshire Hathaway GUARD Insurance to Public Square.
Westguard Insurance Co. bought the properties for $5.07 million from Wilkes-Barre Square L.P., according to a deed filed with the Luzerne County Recorder of Deeds on Tuesday.
Earlier this month, the company announced it had closed a deal to buy the Wilkes-Barre Center but a sales price was not disclosed.
The move means an additional 170 or so jobs will be coming to the downtown over the next two years.
The sales price topped the $4 million Wilkes-Barre LP, an affiliate of Philadelphia real estate investment firm Odin Properties LLC, paid Wilkes-Barre Center Associates for the complex in June of last year.
The deal covers properties from 15 to 39 Public Square and 2 to 22 S. Main St. with tenants that include Rodano’s, Dunkin’ Donuts and Dollar Tree. Berkshire Hathaway GUARD said it will honor the tenants’ leases.
The office building had been one of the sites the insurance firm was looking at in Wilkes-Barre, Northeastern Pennsylvania and in other states to locate its headquarters. GUARD’s annual sales grew sixfold to approximately $1.2 billion since 2007, and the insurer had run out of space for its more than 675 employees, most of them working in five different spots in the downtown.
Wilkes-Barre sweetened its offer with a $1 million grant from the state to retain the company. The state added another $855,000 grant, and the combined assistance paid off with the CEO Sy Foguel’s Nov. 1 announcement of the downtown deal.
”The financial assistance offered by the commonwealth and the city was key in offsetting the increased costs of locating a major corporate facility in a downtown district as well as being competitive with incentives from other areas,” Foguel said in a press release. “We’re very happy to anchor our operations in the downtown.”
Another 171 jobs will be created by August 2019 in addition to the 114 added since August 2016. When renovations and relocations are completed, Berkshire Hathaway GUARD will have 726 employees at its new headquarters.
City and state officials have been criticized for the use of state funds for a business that’s a subsidiary of billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
As recently as Thursday at the Wilkes-Barre council meeting, city Administrator Ted Wampole defended the funding.
The deal will retain a major employer and bring jobs at a time when the city is struggling to balance its budget and control costs associated with providing services. An immediate benefit is the $101,400 realty transfer tax, or 2 percent of the sale price, paid to the city.
“We think it’s part of what’s going to save our financial situation,” Wampole said.