By Denise Allabaugh , Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice
WILKES-BARRE — The Innovation Center in downtown Wilkes-Barre has a new owner.
The Greater Wilkes-Barre Development Corp., an arm of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber, has sold the building at 7 S. Main St. to developer George Albert of Albert Holdings for $2.6 million, according to a deed.
The building was formerly the Woolworth’s store and renovated to be the Innovation Center in 2004.
It includes Barnes & Noble joint college bookstore for King’s College and Wilkes University on the first floor and has become a hub for technology companies such as Pepperjam, which announced plans last year to expand its space and add 35-40 jobs.
Mr. Albert said there are plans to make some cosmetic improvements to the lobby, install a new digital messaging board and directory and new lighting. They also are picking up where the chamber left off and making more improvements to the technology workshop and multimedia center in the basement, he said.
The focal point of the center is a 50-seat theater and lecture hall with equipment to host virtual meetings, podcasts and lectures. The intention is to open it to the community, Mr. Albert said.
The Innovation Center currently has 14 tenants and about 170 jobs in the building and Mr. Albert said he hopes that to increase that to 270 by the end of 2017. About 2,000 feet of space is still available in the basement and a tenant is interested, he said.
Mr. Albert, a local engineer and developer, closed on the sale of the Market Street Square complex in Wilkes-Barre in June for $1.2 million. He is the leader of a group of five investors who plan to develop that site as well. Construction should start there in the next two weeks, he said.
Former City Administrator Greg Barrouk, who now works for Mr. Albert, will manage the Innovation Center.
Wico van Genderen, president and CEO of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber, said selling the Innovation Center is a key piece of the chamber’s strategy to get out of the real estate business to focus more on economic development, job creation and advocating for area businesses.
“We did not make a penny on the $2.6 million in proceeds from the sale of the building,” Mr. van Genderen said. “Every penny went back to the county and the state to pay off past debts.”
Mr. van Genderen said selling the building to a private owner that can make the needed investments will help drive more business activity and jobs. The chamber continues to manage the technology workshop in the Innovation Center called the “THINK” Center and is driving a program there called “Wilkes-Barre Connect.”