By Katherine Pugh, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
WILKES-BARRE — Those working on the Irem Temple Restoration Project had two pieces of news to share Monday.
“Reports of the building’s demise are vastly exaggerated,” said ITRP Board Chair Christian Wielage. He also noted the renovation project can be completed at a total estimated cost of $10 million to $22 million.
He said the lower estimate would produce a “fully operational shabby-chic” result, where the intricacies of the restoration are not fully complete, but the North Franklin Street building can still produce revenue from a variety of events. Wielage said that contracting firms have confirmed the building is structurally sound and has mostly cosmetic damage.
Board member Joe Nardone Jr., a local entertainment promoter, described his vision for these future possible events at Irem Temple.
“My father had done shows at the last incarnation of the building, a few Broadway productions and a magician. Soft rock kind of shows. I was around the building as a kid. When it fell into disrepair, I had actually seen some of the conditions from pictures of the building, and, in a dream, I really wanted to change that,” Nardone explained.
“My interest in the building is the multiple uses. It can’t just be one thing. My area of expertise is really the performance space of the main floor. From a promoter’s perspective, we want this to be a building that people want to run shows in. We’re not really looking to run the shows ourselves, but have a building that would make that available,” Nardone explained. He was referring to the venue’s attractiveness as a flat-floored, large-staged performance area for a variety of concerts like rock, electronic dance music, and punk bands.
Another possibility for the massive space in downtown Wilkes-Barre is to turn part of the venue into a permanent museum for the history of the Wyoming Valley.
“We can use a computer-generated map to progress through the history of the Valley from the untouched forests to the Native American trails, to the carriage routes, to the canals, the railroads. And as that happens, we can see all of the little towns like Wyoming, Exeter, and Nanticoke pop up,” board member Clark Switzer, a history teacher at Wyoming Seminary, explained. The living map could be located in the basement of the building, and Clark noted the mobility of the map exhibit and other immersion exhibits would protect it from potential flooding.
“I think the progress made is fantastic. And given the level of public interest in this room right now, it shows that there’s a ground-swell of grassroots support for this project,” commented Wilkes-Barre City Councilman Tony Brooks, who is an outside adviser for the ITRP.
“I would be the biggest proponent of having a museum here that explains the diversity of our historical background and the way that museums are now digital. They are really cost-effective and they can change over time, like a movie theater— you can see a different show every week,” said Brooks.
The launch of the ITRP’s new website was also announced and can be found at IremTempleResotrationProject.com. The site contains more information on the project and upcoming events and fundraisers.
Monday’s update was presented at a public event at Rodano’s on Public Square.