PLAINS TWP. — A major step toward making a $100 million real estate development a reality arrived Tuesday in the form of $3 million in state funding.
Valley Crest Real Estate, LP, received the Multimodal Transportation Fund grant that will be used to alleviate traffic congestion in the area of the former Valley Crest Nursing and Rehabilitation facility, located off business Route 309 in Plains Township.
Valley Crest Real Estate, LP, whose principals are members of the Tambur family, is working to complete the Valley Crest Commons Project, which includes the redevelopment of the Valley Crest Nursing and Rehabilitation facility and surrounding land.
The property would be re-purposed to serve as a mixed-use facility for significant retail, residential, commercial and entertainment use, in addition to hotel accommodations. The project will create an estimated 1,000 jobs.
“This is an incredible opportunity for growth,” said Robert Tambur Sr., one of the group’s principals. “The project will create jobs, create places where people will want to go and it will be a great addition to Luzerne County and Plains Township.”
Untying the knot
One of the keys to getting the project moving ahead was to resolve the significant traffic issues where Mundy Street, kidder Street and Route 315 converge near the VA Medical Center, Wyoming Valley Mall and the nearby Cross Valley Expressway and Route I-81. The grant will address those issues and resolve them.
Funding was needed for traffic improvements in the immediate area which will alleviate congestion and provide better access to the proposed Valley Crest Commons Project.
“The Valley Crest Commons Project will transform idle land, create hundreds of new jobs, and invest in critical infrastructure upgrades to the Route 315 corridor that will greatly benefit economic development in Plains Township, Wilkes-Barre, Wilkes-Barre Township, and the greater Wyoming Valley,” said State Sen. John Yudichak, D-Nanticoke.
Robert Tamburro, trustee/general partner for TFP Limited Real Estate and Development Management and of Valley Crest Real Estate LP, said easing the traffic congestion in the area is critical to completing the proposed project.
“The proposed highway upgrades will provide adequate and safer ingress/egress to and from the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center and Timber Ridge Health Care Center, better traffic flow through Mundy and Kidder Streets and significant economic expansion opportunities at the former Valley Crest Nursing Home property,” Tamburro said.
State Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, said the funding announced today not only improves the infrastructure in the area, but also creates opportunities for potential economic growth and development.
Gov. Tom Wolf announced Tuesday that 42 highway, bridge, transit, ports and waterways, and bike and pedestrian projects will be in line for $49 million in funding through the Multimodal Transportation Fund.
“With these resources, we can improve transportation connections down to the local level and make a big difference for communities,” Wolf said. “These investments reflect our commitment to all modes of transportation, both statewide and locally.”
PennDOT Secretary Leslie S. Richards added, “We simply must help our local partners address these critical links to ensure they remain open and in good repair. Losing these links to weight restrictions or outright closures would place too great a burden on local communities and these grants will help avoid such outcomes.”
Traffic project details
PennDOT spokesman Rich Kirkpatrick said the grant funds will be used to install coordinated traffic signals at nine locations along Route 315 near the Mohegan Convention Center and other major commercial uses. He said the proposed traffic signalization improvements emanated from a traffic plan submitted to PennDOT and under review.
“The grant funds will also be used to construct road improvements in this general area as well as to facilitate access to the vacant, former Valley Crest facility,” Kirkpatrick said. “The grant will also be used to provide for improved access to the VA Medical Center.”
Traffic signals are proposed at the following locations:
• Kidder/PA 315 & Motorworld – Plains Township
• Kidder/PA 315 & PA 309 NB Ramp – Plains Township
• Kidder/PA 315 & PA 309 SB Ramp – Wilkes-Barre City
• Kidder/PA 315 & Mundy SR 2061 – Wilkes Barre City
• Mundy SR 2061 & Mall-Credit Union – Wilkes Barre City
• Mundy SR 2061 & Bear Creek-East End – Wilkes Barre Township
• Mundy SR 2061 & Tambur – Wilkes Barre Township
• Mundy SR 2061 & Wilkes-Barre Commons Blvd – Wilkes Barre Township
• Mundy SR 2061 & Highland Blvd SR 2063 – Wilkes Barre Township.
Joe Hogan of Mullen and Lonergan, Philadelphia, has been retained by Tamburro to apply for additional grants and to compile data for those applications.
“These traffic changes will be a great asset for several communities, not just the developer,” Hogan said. “Everybody knows it needs to be improved.”
Hogan said Valley Crest Real Estate will be required to come up with a 30 percent match on the PennDOT grant.
One issue remains to be resolved. An easement is needed to access a portion of the VA property near Mundy Street and Route 309. The easement is necessary to allow contractors to perform the work on the necessary road improvements.
Tamburro said federal and state legislators and municipal officials are working with the VA to find a solution to satisfy all stakeholders.
“My role as developer is to be the catalyst to get all these parties together,” Tamburro said. “All the traffic issues are pre-existing and they will continue whether or not we are involved. These improvements are public improvements — not just to the benefit of the developer.”
William Klaips, VA public affairs officer, said there were multiple renderings for the project, each of which generated their own concerns and impacts.
“A consistent concern among renditions was the relinquishment of government property for the commercial gain of a private entity, traffic safety, physical security and impacts to planned projects,” Klaips said.
Klaips said there is an existing easement for the property. He said over the last several years, in an effort of community partnership, the medical center has repeatedly met with the developer, Congressional/Senatorial Offices and various city representatives regarding the project.
“Unfortunately, all plans which were provided to the medical center for review were considered to pose significant impacts to operations while providing minimal, if any, benefit to the veterans served at the medical center,” Klaips said. “Although parking is an issue of consideration, there are also concerns related to safety and the bifurcation of the grounds and services and the appropriate utilization of the land specifically donated for the provision of veteran care.”
• U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Moosic: “My office has worked with the Medical Center and the developer to try to reach a solution that protects the needs of veterans and also maximizes the beneficial economic development of the area. I hope that a solution that satisfies all needs can be worked out, and I encourage the parties to continue to look for common ground.”
• U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Hazleton: “Since becoming aware of this request in 2015, I have helped facilitate conversations between all interested parties to find a solution that benefits veterans currently being served by the medical facility and local residents. This includes the private developer, the VA, and local officials.”
• U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton: “My office is aware of the project and has facilitated connections between the VA, the township, and the developers. Any easement arrangement or potential project should be mutually agreed upon, beneficial for the community, and ensure veterans can access services of the Wilkes Barre VA.”
• U.S. Sen Pat Toomey, R-Zionsville: “My staff and I have been active in encouraging negotiations between the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center and stakeholders. Hopefully, an agreement can be struck that will allow this project to move forward while ensuring that veterans, who rely on the Medical Center, are not inconvenienced.”
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.