By Matt Mattei, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
WILKES-BARRE — A group devoted to the restoration and preservation of the Irem Temple building on North Franklin Street has scheduled a series of informational sessions and fundraisers to generate public interest in the effort and create transparency between the group and area residents.
In-person informational sessions will be held at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 26 at City Market and Cafe on Public Square, 2 p.m. Jan. 14 at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church on South Franklin Street and 6 p.m. Jan. 24 at the Westmoreland Club on South Franklin Street. Online sessions will be held on Jan. 4 and Jan. 17 via the GoToMeeting platform.
CEO of business budgeting and planning software company PlanGuru and owner of Harvey Guitars on Public Square Christian Weilage has homes in White Plains, N.Y., and Dallas, but he said he’s in the process of moving his family and his businesses to Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Weilage is part of the Irem Temple Restoration Project, which also includes local businessmen and public officials such as Joe Nardone Jr., Alex Flack, Charles Barber, Larry Newman and Tony Brooks.
Weilage said sessions will begin with a power-point presentation to explain the group’s intentions, progress and plans for the future and will be followed by an open question-and-answer session.
“We want people to ask us questions, let us know their thoughts and give us criticism,” Weilage said. “There’s a lot of healthy skepticism out there. Our group wants to be transparent, open and honest and really collaborate with the community.”
Sessions on Dec. 26 and Jan. 24 will include $20 and $50 admission fees, respectively, and patrons will be treated to food and drink for their admission price. Donations go toward the Luzerne Foundation’s Irem Temple Restoration and Preservation Fund and can be made at all events and at bit.ly/2hZoavu.
Weilage said the group’s plan is to restore the original flat floor, open hall layout of the temple’s main room. The primary objective, he said, is to save the building, but he also believes the space has endless potential to be a concert venue and host everything from cabaret shows to charity fundraisers to wrestling matches and an indoor farmer’s market.
“We want the main hall to be a diverse multi-use space,” Weilage said.
Weilage said the effort will be “nonprofit all the way” and is not meant to engage in the theater management business. He noted that the large, open room could attract the faction of musical acts, such as jam bands, heavy metal acts, hip-hop and dance groups, that a seated venue might not appeal to.
“There would be zero cannibalism of the Kirby Center,” Weilage said. “There would be no overlap with these types of acts. If Will Beekman and the Kirby Center had both of these rooms at their disposal, it would dramatically raise the profile of Wilkes-Barre and the Kirby Center.”
Beekman, executive director at the F.M. Kirby Center, said that while discussing potential management of a restored Irem Temple would be “putting the cart before the horse,” if the project got to a point where the building was renovated, he’d love to talk about how both parties could work together.
“I think it’s a great thing for downtown Wilkes-Barre,” Beekman said. “They’ve said all along — and I believe them — that the hope would be … to produce a space that is complementary to the Kirby Center. I would love to see that building saved as well. What we do with it from there is a conversation for further down the road … but I don’t see it as a threat, and it could be a good thing for everyone involved.”