Luzerne County Council will discuss a proposed lease Tuesday that would relocate its tourism and visitors’ bureau to a portion of the historic former train station in downtown Wilkes-Barre by the end of this year.
The bureau’s move from a rented office on Public Square to the station had been cited as a strong possibility for 15 years, or since then-county commissioners authorized federal community development funds for the county Redevelopment Authority to purchase the station complex from businessman Thom Greco in 2006.
However, the goal of renovating the brick station — built in 1868 for the Central Railroad of New Jersey — was put on the back burner until this year due to financial and ownership issues.
With no funds to redevelop the 6.36-acre site at the corner of Market Street and Wilkes-Barre Boulevard, the authority sold the property to Market Square Properties Development LLC in 2016. After Market Square representative George Albert warned the station preservation was in jeopardy due to structure deterioration and a lack of financial assistance, Wilkes-Barre Mayor George Brown agreed last year to reprogram grant funds to proceed with the project.
Albert could not immediately be reached for comment on the renovation progress in recent days, but he said in January he had received bids and expected to begin work soon.
The station renovation will “hopefully be completed” before the end of this year, county Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Theodore Wampole said in a proposed lease agenda submission for Tuesday’s county council work session.
The lease would commence when the bureau has possession of its space on or before Dec. 15. County officials would have the right to terminate the lease if construction is not completed by Dec. 15, the proposal says.
According to the work session agenda submission:
The station location will provide the county bureau with “much-needed” additional space to expand its visitors’ center and more convenient parking and access for the public.
At the larger visitors’ center, groups will be able to browse information on area attractions, it said.
“The area would allow us to show exhibits that also exemplify the county’s rich history and heritage,” it said.
Due to past expectations of a relocation to the station, the bureau has been operating on a month-to-month lease with its current landlord on Public Square.
The bureau currently budgets $30,000 for rent at its current site and would pay $32,400 at the new location. This increase would have a “just a minor impact” on its budget, which is almost entirely covered by hotel tax revenue and does not rely on any allocations from the county’s general fund operating budget.
An initial five-year lease is proposed, with the option of two renewals at three years each.
For the initial term, the cost would be $15.43 per square foot for 2,100 square feet, which equates to $2,700 per month and $32,400 annually.
The base rent would increase to $16.50 per square foot, or $2,887.50 per month, in the sixth to eleventh years if the county opts for the renewal.
In addition, the bureau must pay a proportionate share of building charges for maintenance of common areas and insurance, not to exceed $2 per square foot. Market Square agrees to pay all building real estate taxes.
Albert has said renovation of the 4,000-square-foot station will cost more than building a new structure, but his investment group made a commitment to preserve the structure because it is a community landmark. The station is on the National Register of Historic Places.
A council majority must approve the lease at a future meeting for it to take effect. The bureau’s council-appointed citizen board of directors recommends lease adoption.
The work session follows a 6 p.m. voting meeting, with instructions to attend the virtual gathering posted under council’s public meetings online link at luzernecounty.org.