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Old 03-19-2012, 07:49 PM
 
Location: Polish Hill, Pittsburgh, PA
30,839 posts, read 68,560,042 times
Reputation: 16515

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I read with great pleasure over the past few days in the Times-Leader newspaper some articles that are highlighting more progress in the ongoing revitalization of Downtown Wilkes-Barre. A speculative developer from Weatherly has invested nearly $2,000,000 of his own savings into the refurbishment of a historic building at South Main & Ross Streets, not far from the campus of Wilkes University, into 16 upscale apartments that he hopes to eventually transition into condos. He's purchased a liquor license to complement a restaurant that will occupy the ground floor. The apartments are showing now and should be available to rent starting next month. They feature stainless steel appliances, hardwood flooring, intercom and security systems, and parking, amongst other amenities.

Owner banks on filling W-B downtown residential niche - Wilkes-Barre, news, sports, obituaries, and classifieds for Luzerne County and Scranton | The Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, Scranton PA - www.timesleader.com

Perhaps what I find to be most promising about this project is that the vast majority of the dozens who have commented on the article thus far are upbeat and optimistic. This developer invested all of his own funds into this venture, showing that one need not rely on the taxpayers for handouts to do something great.

I also read that the city will be using gaming proceeds from Mohegan Sun Casino to provide $5,000 grants to revitalize/refurbish the facades of the many unkempt private dwellings lining the main gateways into the city, especially Coal Street, East Northampton Street, and Blackman Street. One issue that Wilkes-Barre will always have in convincing middle-class and upper-middle-class families to return from the suburbs to which they've fled since the 1970s is that its housing stock is largely run-down, outdated, and antiquated. Perhaps polishing some of it up will help to entice these suburbanites to give the city's neighborhoods a second glance?

Gateway homes get makeover CASINO CASH - Wilkes-Barre, news, sports, obituaries, and classifieds for Luzerne County and Scranton | The Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, Scranton PA - www.timesleader.com


If and when I return to the area to care for my parents as they age Downtown Wilkes-Barre will be my neighborhood of choice. I hope other developers continue to feed off this positive momentum. I can already imagine having Barnes & Noble, a movie theater, a perfoming arts center, two universities, a farmers' market, Boscov's, ethnic restaurants, the YMCA, a library, houses of worship, galleries, and so much more within blocks of my loft/condo.

I grew up in the suburbs and now live within walking distance of Downtown Pittsburgh. I can safely assure you that the difference in living environments is like night and day. I went from living in a sidewalk-less subdivision near a congested four-lane highway to living in a 110-year-old rowhome on a street lined with brick sidewalks where I can walk to public markets, boutiques, galleries, theaters, stadiums/arenas, a casino, museums, and much, much more. Urban living is "in" again, and I'm ecstatic to see that Wilkes-Barre is capitalizing upon this trend. Despite what this sub-forum's many naysayers will say there ARE those of us who WOULD like to live in a Downtown setting. Some of us enjoy the hustle and bustle of being in the middle of the action---car alarms, panhandlers, graffiti, etc. notwithstanding.

 
Old 03-19-2012, 08:57 PM
 
210 posts, read 333,649 times
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That is indeed lovely news. I don't however think that slapping on some new brick facade or vinyl siding will draw families back into the city. the houses are still small on the inside, yards are non existent and the houses are only few feet apart. These are not things that appeal to most middle class homebuyers. They will however look like mansions to people moving from apartments in NYC.

I don't believe urban living ever went out of style. The young, single and rich often enjoy living in an urban setting. The poor do too, but mostly because they can find cheap places to live. People have been fleeing to the suburbs since the fifties, shortly after getting married and planning a family. New aluminum siding on Coal St. Won't change that.
 
Old 03-19-2012, 09:26 PM
 
Location: Polish Hill, Pittsburgh, PA
30,839 posts, read 68,560,042 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PA_Dutch_Love View Post
That is indeed lovely news. I don't however think that slapping on some new brick facade or vinyl siding will draw families back into the city. the houses are still small on the inside, yards are non existent and the houses are only few feet apart. These are not things that appeal to most middle class homebuyers. They will however look like mansions to people moving from apartments in NYC.

I don't believe urban living ever went out of style. The young, single and rich often enjoy living in an urban setting. The poor do too, but mostly because they can find cheap places to live. People have been fleeing to the suburbs since the fifties, shortly after getting married and planning a family. New aluminum siding on Coal St. Won't change that.
In any respect I think it's important that we reach out to "movers and shakers" like Mr. Johnson and congratulate them on their bravado and thank them for their commitment to make our communities better. He invested nearly $2,000,000 of his own savings into this project without relying on any tax dollars, and that alone is quite a feat, especially given the fragile state of our national economy. I actually just sent him a lengthy e-mail providing him with encouragement on his project to combat any doubts he may have. I plan to transfer with my current employer back to NEPA in the future to help my sister care for my parents as they grow older, and my partner and I would prefer to live in Downtown Wilkes-Barre over a suburban alternative. I know there are many others like us as well, so for some to naysay proclaiming there isn't a market available for such units is incorrect.

Not everyone wants a 4-BR/2.5-bath newer construction vinyl-sided home in the suburbs with a 1/2-acre lot, two-car attached garage, and an inground pool. Some would be willing to pay a similar amount for a 2-BR/1-BA brick rowhome in the city on a lot of less than 1/10-acre in exchange for the added convenience of being walking distance to workplaces, houses of worship, schools, restaurants, shopping, etc. You're correct in that you won't find many families with multiple children interested in a downtown loft or condo; however, an influx of DINKs (dual-income/no kids), empty-nesters, gay couples, and young single professionals---all of whom are likely to have relatively high levels of discretionary income---will serve as a definite boon to existing Downtown businesses and will encourage more to open. More businesses means the city reaping more commercial tax revenues, which means the city can pay down debt more quickly, provide better services, or (admittedly less likely) even reduce residential tax rates to spur more residential growth.

Downtown Wilkes-Barre has been plagued with the "chicken or the egg" issue for years. Will people move Downtown if there aren't enough amenities available to cater to them? Will anyone speculatively open such businesses pre-emptively in hopes that new residents will follow? I maintain, though, that building a denser and more vibrant core in the city will radiate its positive effects to adjacent neighborhoods. We've seen this on a larger scale in larger cities where once Downtown becomes "hot" (and expensive) pioneers begin blazing a trail into other nearby areas, gentrifying them and revitalizing them. As recently as just five years ago many Pittsburgh neighborhoods, including my own, were off the radar. Now with our own housing prices increasing these neighborhoods are being snatched up by developers who are building new lofts and condos and/or restoring existing rowhomes and marketing them with great success. I firmly believe that in another decade Downtown Wilkes-Barre will have much more 24/7 sustained foot traffic and will feel like a true "neighborhood". You'll have the Elevations Lofts, this project, the existing Provincial Towers, and the likely proliferation of more student housing for King's and Wilkes along with more private-sector developers, such as Mr. Johnson, bringing more market-rate housing units to the scene a half-dozen or dozen at a time. With perhaps 5,000+ people living Downtown by 2020 you'll also have a more vibrant business district, which will lead to rising property values. When that happens nearby neighborhoods such as The Heights, the North End (nearer to King's), and upper South Wilkes-Barre (nearer to Wilkes) will see much more investment occurring.
 
Old 03-19-2012, 09:42 PM
 
210 posts, read 333,649 times
Reputation: 199
Wilkes Barre isn't Pittsburgh, or Bethlehem for that matter. The economy in WB is terrible and unless you work in government, a college, healthcare or are a lawyer there isn't much else. I know there are a few tech start ups.

People complain about the disspearing farmland in the west end of The Lehigh Valley, but besides the mini cities of houses that are being built, the area is filled with hundreds of national and international companies. Employing thousands of people. That is what the area up here needs to do, if it ever wants to become what you envision.
 
Old 03-20-2012, 02:27 AM
 
Location: The New England part of Ohio
19,324 posts, read 24,219,489 times
Reputation: 51075
SCR has many good points. I would not live in a suburb again if I were paid to do so.

Wilkes-Barre has many 4 br 2 ba homes with in-ground pools.

People do need to begin home ownership someplace. I wish that the city would offer incentives to singles and others for whom a 3 br 1 bath home would begin the path to stability and equity.
The older smaller homes could provide just that! Instead of letting them rot or be rented by slum lords, use them! They are part of our history, and built a lot better than most newer construction.
 
Old 03-20-2012, 05:53 AM
 
28,192 posts, read 21,392,781 times
Reputation: 16612
I think Mr. Johnson is a smart, dedicated, driven businessman. Kudos to him for taking on such a risky venture.

I have to ask though: Why the push for upscale housing in the downtown area? Is there something wrong with luring families to live down there? It would be nice if a developer would create family friendly housing - in terms of design and money.
 
Old 03-20-2012, 06:52 AM
 
Location: Drama Central
4,084 posts, read 8,175,333 times
Reputation: 1890
LOL Now Wilkes-Barre has the "Upscale Housing" rash. At least its being scratched with private funds...So when it doesn't work out the taxpayers aren't on the hook.....
 
Old 03-20-2012, 10:38 AM
 
28,192 posts, read 21,392,781 times
Reputation: 16612
Quote:
Originally Posted by weluvpa View Post
LOL Now Wilkes-Barre has the "Upscale Housing" rash. At least its being scratched with private funds...So when it doesn't work out the taxpayers aren't on the hook.....
I don't know who is going to fill these places up. I know the article says the building already has 5 potential renters but who are these people?

I'd really like to know where they work, where they are from, etc. Just purely out of curiosity.
 
Old 03-20-2012, 11:24 AM
 
210 posts, read 333,649 times
Reputation: 199
Quote:
Originally Posted by Magritte25 View Post
I don't know who is going to fill these places up. I know the article says the building already has 5 potential renters but who are these people?

I'd really like to know where they work, where they are from, etc. Just purely out of curiosity.
Well off college students?

one grand split between two people is only 500 a month. not that pricey for upper middle class and higher students.
 
Old 03-20-2012, 11:47 AM
 
Location: NE PA
7,936 posts, read 14,074,503 times
Reputation: 4385
Quote:
Originally Posted by PA_Dutch_Love View Post
Well off college students?

one grand split between two people is only 500 a month. not that pricey for upper middle class and higher students.
In this area though, if a college student can afford to spend 500 bucks a month on an apartment, he/she can easily get their own place and not have to deal with roommates.
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