Facade preservation in focus as WB project set to start

i Jun 5th 2020

By Jerry Lynott, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader

WILKES-BARRE — The old could become new again, if possible, with the inclusion of a portion of a century-old building into a new, high-rise hotel planned for the downtown.

In a joint press release Thursday, the developer, Sphere International LLC, and two groups in support of the preservation of Wilkes-Barre historical architecture said they’ve agreed to work together to try and make it happen.

The immediate focus will be on the Frank Clark jeweler building at 63-65 S. Main St., the first of the two properties to be demolished as the multiple-phase project gets underway Monday morning.

Hitesh Patel, a principal with the Flemington, New Jersey-based Sphere, the developer’s attorney, architect and engineer, met a week ago with representatives of the Diamond City Partnership and Downtown Residents Association at the site to discuss preserving the three-story facade of the former jeweler’s building, they said in the release.

”This conversation was a good first step in the effort to incorporate the Frank Clark facade into Sphere’s project. While it’s impossible to say anything with certainty until the design professionals have had an opportunity to develop some alternatives, we’re pleased that Sphere has committed to work with DCP and the DRA to explore the options,” Larry Newman, executive director of the DCP said.

Joel Zitofsky, a member of the DRA, and city council vice chairman Tony Brooks, who also serves as director of the Wilkes-Barre Preservation Society, expressed their hopes the facade could be saved.

“I’m optimistic to work with a developer who understands and respects our cultural heritage and will work with downtown residents to preserve our historic architecture,” Brooks said.

Two years before Sphere announced its plans in October 2015 to build a mixed-use building made up of lodging, banquet, residential and commercial space on the corner of South Main and West Northampton streets, the DCP and DRA began working on the preservation of the jeweler’s and adjacent Engel Building that were left standing after the city ordered the emergency demolition of surrounding properties it owned.

Sphere purchased the jeweler’s building and city-owned parcels in 2016, but was unable to come to an agreement with the owner of the Place 1 at the Hollywood that takes up half of the Engel Building at 67-69 S. Main St. and is located in the middle of the string of standing structures. The new project is to be built around the former women’s clothing store.

The deed to the city parcels was amended to include a section on “Historical Elements” that stated if Sphere “has the opportunity to utilize and/or incorporate any portion of the existing buildings currently located at the site contemplated for the project that represent a recognized, historical element it will consider doing so to the extent that it is economically feasible to do so.” The deed also contains a reverter clause for the city to buy back the properties if deadlines and benchmarks aren’t met.

At the May 29 meeting on site, options were discussed about preserving the facade of the jeweler’s building, the parties said in the release. Sphere identified the site of the jeweler’s store and adjacent parking lot as the location for a 102-room hotel with ground-floor commercial space and first phase of the project. The second phase involves the half of the Engel Building it owns and the corner property on West Northampton Street.

Demolition will begin in the rear of the jeweler’s building and proceed to the front on South Main Street. The release said “Mr. Patel has pledged to leave the front portion of the building standing so that the project team can continue to work on alternatives for the facade’s preservation while design development continues.”

Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.