By Bill O’Boyle, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
WILKES-BARRE — Larry Newman, executive director of the Diamond City Partnership, Wednesday said securing the Main Street program designation has been a long-held goal.
That goal was achieved Wednesday.
Wolf Administration officials and local leaders will join for a formal presentation designating Downtown Wilkes-Barre as the commonwealth’s newest Keystone Communities Main Street Program. The event is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 28, on the Public Square stage area in downtown Wilkes-Barre. The public is invited to attend.
DCED Deputy Secretary Rick Vilello will attend the ceremony to make the formal announcement.
The designation was effective Sept. 15, 2020, and will end on September 30, 2025. The Diamond City Partnership will be the administering agency responsible for implementing the revitalization effort in Downtown Wilkes-Barre.
“If you examine successful downtown revitalization efforts across the country, they inevitably share one common element — adherence to the four-point ‘Main Street’ approach to downtown revitalization,” Newman said. “And, in fact, Downtown Wilkes-Barre’s revitalization strategy has followed that four-point approach since 2001.”
Newman said the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Keystone Communities Main Street program uses the “Main Street” approach as the basis for a rigorous five-year state-backed process that helps selected Pennsylvania downtowns take their revitalization efforts to the next level.
“And that’s just what DCP intends to do — take Downtown Wilkes-Barre to the next level,” Newman said.
As a DCED-designated Keystone Communities Main Street Program, Downtown Wilkes-Barre will be eligible for complimentary technical assistance and programmatic support from the Pennsylvania Downtown Center (PDC) over the next five years and will receive priority status for various funding applications submitted to the Department of Community and Economic Development.
As an example, Downtown Wilkes-Barre may apply for planning funds, implementation grants, façade renovation grants, development grants and public space improvement grants. It will also be eligible for Neighborhood Assistance Program Enterprise Zone tax credits for private sector development within the designated Main Street Program area.
“Downtown Wilkes-Barre is an example of a business district revitalization effort that has through the years followed its asset-based, market-driven vision and strategy to grow into the downtown it’s become,” said PDC’s Executive Director, Julie Fitzpatrick. “With the leadership of Larry Newman, Executive Director, Diamond City Partnership, PDC looks forward to helping to guide the effort into what it will be in the future.”
Newman said the assistance will be particularly important now, as DCP addresses the existential challenges posed to Downtown’s economy by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our basic strategy — which builds on key Downtown assets like our colleges, our growing residential population, our dining and entertainment cluster, our riverfront, and our historic architecture — will not change,” Newman said. “Instead, Main Street designation gives us a lot of new tools to help us execute that strategy.”
Newman said the designation provides a variety of benefits: for example, it means that private businesses investing in Downtown now qualify for NAP Enterprise Zone Tax Credits in an amount that’s equal to 25% of their Downtown investment, up to $500,000.
“We also get priority access to many other state programs,” Newman noted.
To qualify for Main Street designation, Newman said a community must first be able to sustain program administration through the five-year designation period.
“Thanks to the Downtown Wilkes-Barre Business Improvement District, we were able to meet that test — and that’s what allowed us to move forward with the application,” Newman said. “Now, we’re looking forward to the next phase of our Downtown revival, and to continuing to transform our center city into a point of pride for everyone in the Wyoming Valley.”
Founded in 1987, the mission of Pennsylvania Downtown Center is to build and support the capacity of local nonprofit organizations, municipalities, and individuals to enhance the overall well-being and sustainability of Pennsylvania’s core communities.
PDC accomplishes this mission by engaging and educating local community leaders and volunteers, to advance the sense of place, quality of life and economic vitality of the Commonwealth’s downtowns, traditional neighborhood business districts and nearby residential areas.