State Rep. Bad luck despite WB station plans
Rep. Gerald Mullery has proposed that Luzerne County house its tourism and visitor office in the White Haven Community Library and Visitor Center in place of the historic train station in downtown Wilkes-Barre.
The county council is considering a proposal to move the office from the public square in Wilkes-Barre to the first floor of the station on the corner of Market Street and Wilkes-Barre Boulevard when this structure is under renovation.
Mullery, D-Newport Township, said he had read about the council’s recent discussions regarding the possible relocation of the station and that he would be “negligent” in failing to alert the council to the White Haven option, according to a letter whom he sent to the council and county convention and executive director of the visitor’s office Theodore Wampole.
According to Mullery’s letter and release on Wednesday:
Located near the center of White Haven, the neighborhood building was built in 1889 as an engine repair shop for the former Lehigh Valley Railroad and is listed on the national register of historic sites.
This structure has been “dramatically transformed” into a multipurpose library and heritage visitor center.
It houses the County Bureau and is “ideally located” two miles from Interstate 80, nine miles from Interstate 81 and five miles from the Pennsylvania Turnpike. There are signs on all three highways to attract motorists, he said.
Pointing to state data showing that nearly 1 million people have visited the nearby Hickory Run, Lehigh Gorge and Nescopeck State Parks in the past two years, he said White Haven was “the entrance community” for everyone three parks.
The Black Diamond portion of the D&L trail and the north entrance to Lehigh Gorge State Park also connect near the White Haven structure, providing a safe and accessible place for trail visitors to get information and sanitation to use.
“The Luzerne County Tourism and Visitors Office should be where tourists and visitors are, and I can’t think of a better location for the office than the White Haven Area Community Library and Visitor Center,” wrote Mullery.
Mullery asked the county council to fully consider the option and invited council members to visit the facility.
District manager C. David Pedri said Wednesday he had to postpone the council as he was in charge of real estate, even though the administration would provide any contributions requested by the council.
The council will vote on the lease for the station at its meeting on April 13th. Council chairman Tim McGinley and council vice chairman Chris Perry said they expect Mullery’s proposal to be discussed at this point.
Wampole said he will respect and wholeheartedly execute the council’s decision, but personally advocate proceeding with a lease at the station.
The train station is in the downtown area of the county seat and in a high-traffic area near the Mohegan Sun Arena, numerous hotels, King’s College and Wilkes University, he said. It’s also centrally located in the county and easily accessible from Interstate 81, he said.
Moving to the station would also help preserve an important local building and promote local history, Wampole said.
Like Pedri, Wampole emphasized that White Haven is a beautiful community. The county has many access points worthy of visitor centers, but the office doesn’t have the revenue to open multiple satellite offices, Wampole said.
The fate of the station is unclear
The fate of the station would be unclear if the district did not sign the lease. Developer George Albert recently told the council that his investment group must have guaranteed renters before renovating the structure, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Without tenant obligations, the group would prefer to destroy the station, as the structure is “very dense”, only about 4,000 square meters and more expensive to renovate, Albert had informed the city council.
Wilkes-Barre has agreed to reprogram a $ 1 million government grant to maintain the former brick station of the Central Railroad of New Jersey, built in 1868. However, Albert said that his group, Market Square Properties Development LLC, must borrow money for the project before grant funding can be applied.
The renovation will cost $ 1.4 million, or nearly $ 350 per square foot, Albert said.
As suggested, the county lease would commence when the office is available on or before December 15.
The initial five-year lease for housing the district office at 2,100 square feet at the train station is proposed at $ 15.43 per square foot, which is $ 32,400 per year. The rent would increase to $ 16.50 per square foot if the county opts for two extensions of three years each.
The office spends approximately $ 30,000 on rent on its currently smaller 1,300-square-foot site in the public square. No general resources of the district are required for a lease, as the office is self-sufficient and primarily relies on the hotel’s tax revenue.
Albert said the rent he charges the county will not generate any profit, is “refundable directly on cost” and “very, very, very reasonable” for the amount spent on the property.
He’s working with a commercial realtor on renting the upstairs space.