The big news of 2017 was Berkshire Hathaway GUARD Insurance Company’s decision to purchase 39 Public Square for use as its new home office, significantly increasing its downtown workforce. This move by GUARD –already Downtown Wilkes-Barre’s largest corporate headquarters – represents a substantial gain in jobs and investment for our center city.
In 2017, DCP installed the first of twenty new wayfinding signs to guide visitors to center city destinations. A dozen different partners made that new signage possible; similar partnerships resulted in DCP’s new printed Downtown Wilkes-Barre Visitor Map & Guide, another tool introducing visitors to center city’s businesses and attractions.
DCP’s Holiday Pop-Up Shops in Midtown Village, made possible by the PPL Foundation and organized in partnership with the Chamber, DWBBA, and The Times Leader, was a big hit, expanding Downtown’s role as a holiday shopping destination while providing retailers with new opportunities to test-drive downtown storefronts.
Partnerships between the City of Wilkes-Barre, the Downtown Wilkes-Barre Business Association, and DCP ensured a full range of seasonal Downtown events: three parades; Public Square’s Farmers Market, Easter Egg Hunt, Trick-or-Treating, and Holiday Market; Downtown Restaurant Week; Small Business Saturday; and more. Targeted marketing initiatives, such as the reusable Farmers Market shopping bags sponsored by Highmark, served to promote Downtown’s signature events to new audiences.
During 2016, LSEO, Pepperjam, ReferLocal.com, and others expanded in Downtown, while other tech companies, such as PlanGuru, relocated here, furthering Downtown’s emergence as the center of the region’s startup sector.
Additional startup businesses are slated for Public Square’s historic First National Bank building, whose rehabilitation was highlighted by Governor Wolf in October, when he visited Downtown to announce a $2 million state grant in support of the “Innovation Squared” initiative.
The year also brought the launch of “Wilkes-Barre Connect” – a collaboration of local service providers to ensure that all startup and existing businesses have access to the resources, services, and facilities they need to grow right here.
Earlier in the year, Wilkes University began construction on a new Sordoni Art Gallery. The new Sordoni is located on the second block of South Main Street, where it will join the Circle Centre for the Arts, Marquis Art & Frame and its Second Floor Gallery, and Knot Just Any Day in Downtown’s emergent “arts district.” The arts district idea is being championed by the Wyoming Valley Art League and other arts and business organizations; they envision a critical mass of arts and culture activities strengthening our center city.
Collaboration between the City of Wilkes-Barre, the Downtown Wilkes-Barre Business Association, and DCP brought a year’s worth of wonderful events – including two holiday parades, the Public Square Easter Egg Hunt, Downtown Restaurant Week, Small Business Saturday, and two new Public Square events: October’s family-friendly Trick-or-Treat and December’s Holiday Market.
DCP’s Downtown Action Plan served as the basis for a collaborative submission to Frontier Communication’s “America’s Best Communities” competition in partnership with the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber and the City of Wilkes-Barre. As a result, Wilkes-Barre was selected as a semifinalist in the ABC competition, winning $50,000 to refine the plan and proceed to the quarterfinalist round.
DCP expanded its seasonal hanging flower basket program to include streetlamps along Main Street from Union to Northampton Streets, and from Market Street from River Street to Pennsylvania Avenue.
DCP won a $5,000 grant from the Pocono Forest and Waters Conservation Landscape’s 2015 mini-grant program to implement the pilot phase of a new downtown wayfinding signage program.
DCP used community feedback from its 2014 survey and workshops to craft a new Downtown Action Plan to guide the next five years of downtown progress.
DCP conducted the 2014 Downtown Perception & Use Survey, an online survey completed by more than 800 people, which provided us with clear evidence of downtown visitation and perception trends, strengths, and weaknesses.
DCP began installing and maintaining hanging flower baskets on streetlamps around the perimeter of Public Square from May until September.
DCP began “This Week in Downtown Wilkes-Barre,” our weekly E-newsletter, which provides the upcoming week’s Downtown events and exhibits to more than 1000 in-boxes each week.
DCP worked with the local arts community to reinvent the “Third Friday Diamond City Art Walk,” a monthly Downtown gallery walk, including more than 15 arts venues, that has been held since 2006.
Downtown ratepayers voted to renew DCP’s Downtown Wilkes-Barre Business Improvement District for a new six-year term.
DCP created the Downtown Wilkes-Barre Business Improvement District Façade Grant Program, which provides grants for the rehabilitation of commercial storefronts, signage, and facades within the Downtown Wilkes-Barre Business Improvement District. DCP created the Façade Grant Program in order to help Downtown’s property and business owners make appropriate improvements that encourage best practices in storefront, façade, and signage design.
DCP organized a Downtown Design Workshop, involving two public meetings and an all-day design charrette cosponsored by the local AIA chapter. The Design Workshop generated a collection of alternative design concepts, helping the community to visualize Downtown’s potential, and to develop consensus about Downtown’s future physical form.
DCP and our five local colleges developed the Downtown/Collegetown Initiative, a student-led program that has involved the local college community in the downtown revitalization process. The results of a study conducted by the Dt/Ct Steering Committee and a class at Penn State Wilkes-Barre, designed to understand the local college community as a distinct market segment, were presented to the public at a 2004 public forum; those recommendations have formed the basis for initiatives like the “Party on the Square” (see below), the Barnes & Noble Joint Collegiate Bookstore, and the Downtown Student Discount Card.
DCP initiated a new Downtown event –“Party on the Square” – bringing students together from the five Wilkes-Barre area colleges and universities to Downtown each fall. With bands, contests, and giveaways, this event has grown exponentially each year.
DCP and the City created a Downtown Lighting Committee in January of 2004. The Committee was responsible for framing the discussion about new streetlights in Downtown Wilkes-Barre, determining the parameters for the multi-million dollar streetlight replacement project that ensued.
DCP created a Strategic Market Development Plan, prepared by a team of national consultants, to serve as a market-based “business plan” for Downtown Wilkes-Barre.
DCP successfully fought to prevent the demolition of a number of historic commercial buildings on South Main Street. Those buildings were ultimately rehabilitated as part of the Northampton & Main mixed-use development.
DCP created the “Clean & Green Program,” a voluntarily funded supplementary services district that paved the way for the creation of the Downtown Wilkes-Barre Business Improvement District. The Clean & Green Program operated from 2001 until the inception of the Business Improvement District.
DCP created the Downtown Residents Association. The DRA, which provides Downtown’s residents with a vehicle for neighborhood advocacy, has been active since September 2001. DRA’s activities have included mayoral debates; a neighborhood lighting survey; a regular speakers bureau; and annual events raising funds for downtown beautification.