Downtown Development: W-B Turning a Corner

i Nov 8th 2015

By Denise Allabaugh, Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice

Best Western Genetti Hotel and Conference Center became the last hotel and conference center in downtown Wilkes-Barre when the Ramada Inn on Public Square was sold to King’s College in 2013 for student housing and programs.

Hotel owner Gus Genetti has stuck it out in downtown Wilkes- Barre for more than 50 years and said he’s is excited about plans for a $28 million hotel and conference center at South Main and East Northampton streets.

While it will be more competition, he said he looks at the overall picture and a new hotel and conference center will be “substantially good for everyone” and “very positive for the downtown.”

Mr. Genetti and his nephew Thom Greco planned to convert the top two penthouse floors of their hotel into a boutique hotel. The plans didn’t come to fruition, but a $3 million renovation led to a higher level of recognition for Genetti’s as a Best Western Plus.

The proposed hotel and conference center would have difference conference space than Genetti’s. Mr. Genetti said his hotel will still be one of the foremost places for social and corporate events and weddings.

Wilkes- Barre Mayor Tom Leighton said the new hotel will complement Genetti’s, add more space for business people to have meetings and bring more people downtown. Short-term parking will be available in the back. People also can park in Park & Lock Central and valet parking will be available, he said. Construction will start in the spring and is expected to be completed in the fall of 2017.

While the hotel would be the second in downtown Wilkes-Barre, there are currently at least 40 major hotels in Luzerne County and all have conference space, according to officials from Luzerne County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Developers for the proposed center have done their homework by conducting studies and determining there is growth in the industry and demand for additional hotel rooms and conference space, said Merle Mackin, executive director of Luzerne County Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Janet Hall, director of sales and marketing.

Both believe the development is positive for the area. So does John Maday, president of the Downtown Wilkes-Barre Business Association.

“Anytime you have any entity that’s interested in investing $ 28 million in downtown Wilkes-Barre, it has to be good,” he said. “I’m always interested in anything beneficial to the downtown as long as it’s done right.”

The fact that downtown Wilkes-Barre is seeing a $28 million private investment speaks to the “business dynamics, viability and capability of our region and the city,” said Wico van Genderen, president and CEO of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber.

“By the numbers, Wilkes-Barre has a great attraction model for the hospitality industry in that we have a strong college infrastructure in the region and in our downtown,” he said. “We have a solid and diverse business sector with growing tech and services businesses that make for a good foundation of academic and innovation centers of excellence that translates into business conference needs and overnight stays.”

He added downtown Wilkes-Barre also has strong entertainment at places such as the F.M. Kirby Center as well as “great restaurants” and a strong transportation infrastructure that makes the city and region “very accessible for business.”

“We are building good momentum and it is transformational in making Wilkes-Barre a great place to do business, enjoy the strong amenities of the area and to stay in the downtown and in the region,” he said.