By Jacob Seibel, Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice
WILKES-BARRE — The city has been eliminated from the America’s Best Communities competition and is out of the running for the million-dollar grand prize.
Wilkes-Barre will not be getting the up to $3 million grand prize in a national competition to help for downtown revitalization. Scranton was also eliminated in the same round as Wilkes-Barre.
Initially, more than 400 communities entered the competition. Wilkes-Barre and Scranton advanced to the quarter-finalists stage in December and were among 15 left vying for prize money.
The downtown redevelopment plan for Wilkes-Barre was being put in place before the competition was created and will still be implemented even though the city lost, said Larry Newman, urban planner with the Diamond City Partnership (DCP), which was among numerous entities in the city to help make a definitive action plan.
“What the process did was really allowed (Wilkes-Barre) to develop a plan that put so many of us in the city on the same page with regard to actions we need to be taking to move our downtown forward over the next several years,” Newman said. “We were going to be implementing those actions regardless the outcome of the competition.”
Although the prize money would have been nice to win, completing the plan will take millions of dollars, Newman said. A top priority is making downtown an attractive place to live, work, shop and visit, and one of the main focal points to meet that goal is using the two higher-education institutions in the city, King’s College and Wilkes University.
The group, made up of DCP, the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce, the city’s administration and numerous associations, has put together a six-prong plan. About 850 people in the region responded to a survey to help organizers create a balanced plan that leverages the city’s strengths and mitigates its weaknesses, according to Newman.
America’s Best Communities is sponsored by Frontier Communications, Dish, CoBank and the Weather Channel. It’s the first sponsored by those organizations.
Elena Kilpatrick, vice president and general manager of Pennsylvania operations for Frontier Communications, said a unique opportunity was available with the planning leadership from the Wilkes-Barre and Scranton teams to bring our two cities together and form a true regional approach to advance our area for families, universities and the region as a whole.
“We are extremely proud of the incredible collaboration demonstrated by both the Scranton and Wilkes-Barre ABC planning teams,” Kilpatrick said. “Although (Wilkes-Barre and Scranton) were also competing with each other, both teams envisioned economic enhancements that would benefit our entire northeast PA Region. To have achieved quarter-finalist ranking was a huge accomplishment, and now the teams have solid revitalization plans to continue to refine and execute. We consider that to be a truly great ‘win’ for all of NEPA and everyone at Frontier congratulates them.”
The only other East Coast municipality to make it to the near-final round with Wilkes-Barre and Scranton was Statesboro, Georgia, according to the competition’s website. Statesboro has a population 29,000 and is about 13 square miles. In mid-January, participants presented their plans to move past the quarter-finalists round. The final top three winners will receive $1 million to $3 million to implement their plan.