By Steve Mocarsky, Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice
WILKES-BARRE — A downtown business owner whose shop sits in the middle of a $28 million hotel and conference center project says a deal to sell the shop to the developer fell through, but the developer’s attorney says the project is moving forward.
Michaelene Coffee, whose mother, Barbara Coffee, owns the building at 67 S. Main St., said she was told one to two months ago that the developer, Sphere International, is “no longer interested in the property and no longer needs the property for their development.”
“We remained willing to sell the property on the basic terms we negotiated with them,” said Coffee, who moved operations of her Place One at the Hollywood dress and gown shop to a storefront in downtown Scranton after the city condemned the Wilkes-Barre property in 2013.
“We had reached what I would call an understanding as to the price and the primary terms of the sale, but we were never able to get a binding contract signed,” she said.
Wilkes-Barre real estate attorney Jack Dean, who represents Sphere and company principles Hitesh Patel and Suresh Patel, said the project is still very much alive and suggested that the potential for purchase of the Coffee building isn’t dead.
“They haven’t reached an agreement yet. We could work with her, or we could work around her,” Dean said.
Dean indicated the hotel could be constructed on vacant property on the corner of South Main and West Northampton streets that the city sold to Sphere for $500,000 in 2016 — land that abuts the Coffee property to the south — and stretch behind and around the north side of the Coffee property onto the site of the
former Frank Clark Jeweler building, which Sphere purchased for $265,000 from Ken L. Pollock Inc., also in July 2016.
Dean said he and Hitesh Patel met with representatives from Diamond City Partnership, an alliance formed to promote downtown revitalization, and will meet with city officials later this month to discuss aspects of the project.
Larry Newman, executive director of Diamond City Partnership, described the talks as “an introductory conversation.”
A major interest of the partnership and city officials is seeing the developer incorporate the nearby “very historically significant commercial facades” into the development project.
Dean said officials from Sphere and the partnership are “working together on incorporating those facades into the design of the new hotel.”
The plans Sphere unveiled in October 2015 featured a 10-story to 12-story hotel with 100 rooms, retail space and 17,000 square feet of banquet and meeting space. Apartment units and condominiums will be located on the upper floors and a conference center would welcome regional and statewide meetings.
As for Coffee, she said she planned to begin work to reopen her shop at the Wilkes-Barre site after the busy prom and wedding seasons are over — likely in late June.
Coffee moved her shop to Scranton after the City of Wilkes-Barre condemned the buildings housing her store and the jewelry store because of the structural threat adjacent city-owned buildings with shared walls posed to them.
The city demolished its adjacent buildings in 2013, but the dress shop and jewelry store owners elected not to immediately move back in. Not long after, the owners were made sales offers.