By Steve Mocarsky, Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice
WILKES-BARRE — Mayor George Brown shared his plans for the city with members of the Downtown Wilkes-Barre Business Association and answered their questions Friday at City Hall.
Since finalizing a new budget he expects city council to adopt on a final reading Thursday, Brown said he’s focused on a proposal to sell or lease the city sewer lines and finalizing his staffing.
The city requested proposals for both options and Brown said he’ll have a public meeting at which the city’s financial manager will explain the pros and cons of each. Brown expects a decision will be made by March 31.
Brown also said he wants to work aggressively to sell off unneeded city-owned property. There are currently photos and descriptions of 10 parcels advertised for sale on the city website along with contact information to assist potential buyers.
“I don’t want to be in the real estate business,” he said.
Brown also stressed the importance of entrepreneurs starting up new businesses downtown.
Larry Newman, executive director of the Diamond City Partnership, said Brown was “absolutely right.”
“Downtown is the hub of our region’s startup sector. A third of all the information sector jobs in our metropolitan area — Wilkes-Barre/Scranton/Hazleton — sit here within these 16 blocks in downtown,” Newman said.
Newman said people often associate downtown with big businesses such as Berkshire Hathaway Guard or Highmark.
“The reality is that more than 70% of all of the businesses in downtown Wilkes-Barre today employ less than 10 people, and that business sector is growing, and these businesses are going to be the future of our downtown office community,” he said.
Many of those businesses are run by members of a younger generation, who opened them downtown because “this is the place where they want to be and this is the best place for them to grow their business,” Newman said.
“That’s why we have more than two dozen startups and growing downtown, and that is why it is going to continue and that is why we have a waiting list for market-rate downtown apartments, because they don’t see the ghosts that many other people see when they think about downtown,” he said.
“They see a downtown that is filled with people who live here and are going to restaurants and are able to walk to everything,” Newman added. “And our job here is to continue to make that environment better so that more people will continue to choose downtown.”
Several city department heads also attended the association’s first meeting of the year and provided updates on downtown work.
Police Chief Joe Coffay said police initiated several “aggressive sweeps” downtown over the past year that resulted in 163 arrests.
Police last year made a total of 428 downtown arrests, 54 of which were drug-related, 100 of which were for public intoxication and 32 of which were for disorderly conduct, he said.
Coffay also said he shifted manpower around to have additional officers work dayshift, including a K9 officer. Another K9 officer will be downtown between 4 and 6 p.m., he said.
Director of Public Works Butch Frati talked about some infrastructure projects and noted that several downtown streets would be paved in the spring, including Main, Northampton and South streets.
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