By Jerry Lynott, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
WILKES-BARRE — Eileen Kenyon walks the walk and talks the talk about the downtown.
It’s home to the 73-year-old retiree and has almost everything she needs.
“I always swore I would come back,” Kenyon said.
She returned to her birthplace 10 years ago after working in New Jersey and moved into one of the lofts at 14 E. Northampton St. next to the RC Theatres Wilkes-Barre Movies 14.
Loft living suited her fine. “I wanted to own something” that wasn’t a house with a lawn to mow in the summer and snow to shovel from the sidewalks in the winter, she said.
She can come and go as she pleases, and does to the F.M. Kirby Center, the Osterhout Free Library, the River Commons and elsewhere downtown.
“I can walk to just about anything. I like the community. I met a lot of people down here. I have a lot of friends,” Kenyon summed up the benefits of her choice to be an urban dweller.
She’s got company as the downtown has become a preferred location with the conversion of the some of the city’s tallest and oldest office buildings into luxury living spaces. Kenyon’s neighbors are a mixed bunch of young people, professionals and seniors.
The millions of dollars of private development, combined with the investments by King’s College and Wilkes University and the city have paid off and breathed new life into the heart of Wilkes-Barre teeming with new shops, businesses, residences and restaurants.
“You have a vibrant center of the city. If you have something vibrant, they will come. The more they come, the more vibrant it will become,” Kenyon said. “It’s a ripple effect.”
There’s room for more and Kenyon presented her wish list of boutique shops and restaurants that open for lunch.
Still she likes the transformation.
“Wilkes-Barre got a bad rap and many years ago it deserved it,” Kenyon said.
But it’s changed with time, money and through the efforts of people and organizations.
“You’d hardly recognize the place from 10 years ago,” Kenyon said.
The growth doesn’t go unchecked, however. Kenyon, a co-coordinator of the Downtown Residents’ Association, keeps an eye on the happenings.
“Our mission is to improve the quality of life not just for the downtown residents, but for all of the people of Wilkes-Barre,” Kenyon said.
Pat Parks joins Kenyon in that endeavor as the other co-coordinator.
“One of the reasons we’re doing it is we’re trying to get rid of the bad impression people have of downtown,” Parks said.
She and her husband Wes bought a home on South Franklin Street that was built in 1873 and restored with three others vacant properties by the now defunct non-profit development corporation CityVest.
“We like an urban setting,” Pat Parks said. “It’s very nice living downtown because you can walk everywhere.”
She and Wes had been living in San Diego before their separate moves east. Wes, 76, came first to take a job as an engineering professor at the Penn State Wilkes-Barre campus in Lehman Township in 1997. Pat, who said she’s close in age to her husband, joined him eight years later.
The couple bought half of the South Franklin Street double-block after Wes said in 2004 he went into the office of Larry Newman, who was a vice president for the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry of the Diamond City Partnership at the time, and asked, “Where does one find old houses?”
Newman, now executive director of the Diamond City Partnership, the downtown economic development organization, showed Wes Parks the CityVest designs and sold him on the project. “It was an opportunity to live in an old house,” Wes Parks said
From his front door Wes Parks takes regular walks with his fox terrier and meets up with others walking their dogs. He said it’s one of the positive aspects of living downtown.
Safety isn’t an issue. “For me, I’m not concerned,” he said.
He encouraged others to live downtown in one of the many houses on the market. “There are a lot of them there,” Wes Parks said.
The recent development has focused on the office buildings near Public Square, but Pat Parks wished the attention turned more toward the neighborhood.
“It would be nice if they could improve the houses farther down,” she said.