By Bill O’Boyle, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
WILKES-BARRE — What was once a popular nightclub, restaurant and hotel will soon house offices, a bank and a Burger King on the corner.
The transformation of the former Market Street Square Complex is underway as demolition began this week to remove several rail cars to clear the way for the renovation of the historic train station building.
George Albert heads a group of five investors — himself, Pat Hadley, of Hadley Construction; Santino Ferretti, owner of N&B Enterprises; and two unnamed silent partners — called Market Street Properties Development LLC.
Albert, 47, of Bear Creek, was at the site Tuesday and is excited about being part of the continued revitalization of downtown Wilkes-Barre.
“We are all middle-aged investors and we want to do our part in improving the city,” he said. “Our group is focused on downtown revitalization projects like this.”
Albert said he and his fellow investors have big plans for the site — he is about to sign a lease with a bank for space in the former train station and another tenant has been secured, but he can’t reveal who that is at this time. Albert’s business will occupy the second floor.
A Burger King restaurant will be built on the corner of Market Street and Wilkes-Barre Boulevard, and the property will be enhanced with a new access road, cherry blossom trees, sidewalks, shrubbery and more.
Albert said the first floor of the train station building has about 2,000 square feet and the second floor has 1,800 square feet. A retail strip adjacent to the train station has two tenants, and Albert expects it to be fully occupied by the end of the year.
There are also plans for vacant property on the site, but what will be built and what types of tenants will be sought has not yet been decided.
Albert purchased the property in June for $1.2 million from the Luzerne County Redevelopment Authority, which had purchased the property in 2006 from businessman Thom Greco for $5.8 million.
Several homeless people who had been living out of the train station had to be chased Monday morning before demolition began. He said people had been living in the vacant building for some time.
Albert expects to complete the demolition and preliminary renovation of the remaining building by the end of the year.
Greco said anything new and improved is a positive for that site. Greco owns the property where McDonald’s faces East Northampton Street and Citizens Bank faces East Market Street.
“We’ve been waiting for years for the site to be developed,” Greco said. “We’re pleased to see something positive being done there.”
Greco said he purchased the Station Complex from Marvin Roth, who had operated the Playboy Restaurant and the Gandy Dancer and Choo Choo Inn bars. When Greco took over, he re-named the dining cars Norma Jean’s and the main building became known as Market Street Square.
Greco opened the Be Bop Cafe and Peanuts Saloon and also opened Palooka’s Diner on the corner of East Market Street and Wilkes-Barre Boulevard. The diner was sold and moved to Germantown, Greco said.