By Bill O’Boyle, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
WILKES-BARRE — On the morning after another sell-out show at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts, Executive Director Will Beekman told about 30 members of the Downtown Wilkes-Barre Business Association that the building will celebrate its 80th birthday in 2018.
Meeting in the Kirby Center lobby Friday, the downtown group learned that on average, there is one show every three nights at the former Paramount movie theater.
“In the last six days, we have had more than 5,000 people here,” Beekman said. “And over the last three years, we have had 24,000 kids participate in our Children’s Series for free.”
Beekman also reported how the Kirby Center has increased its security measures in light of incidents at concerts across the country, most recently at a country music festival in Las Vegas where a gunman opened fire on the crowd.
“We have started using metal detecting wands, and we have an armed, off-duty police officer at our shows,” Beekman said. “It’s caused some delays getting people to their seats, but we feel these are necessary measures. So far, we haven’t had any complaints.”
Beekman noted that some big-name acts are booked at the Kirby Center in the coming months, such as Jerry Seinfeld, Alice Cooper and the Beach Boys. Jennifer Nettles’ Christmas Show played to a full house Thursday night.
Beekman said there will be several celebrations in 2018 to commemorate the center’s 80th birthday, including the showing of several classic films on the silver screen. The facility first opened in 1938 and was reopened in 1986 after a community-wide campaign to raise funds for renovation that was headed by the late Al Boscov.
Larry Newman, executive director of the Diamond City Partnership, reported that the main goal of his organization is to make downtown Wilkes-Barre “the place to be for the holiday season.”
Newman cited the recent opening of the Holiday Pop Up Shops in the Midtown Village and this weekend’s Old-Fashioned Holiday Market on Public Square as main attractions for December.
“The Midtown Village has not lived up to its full potential,” Newman said. “With the Pop Up Shop program, we are seeing increased activity there, and the existing stores in the area are also benefiting.”
The Pop Up Shops are open through Dec. 16 — 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Newman also noted that in 2017, 40 new residential units were established downtown and Berkshire-Hathaway announced it will relocate to Public Square.
“All of this is making downtown cash registers ring,” Newman said. “And that’s our goal.”
John Maday, president of the Downtown Wilkes-Barre Business Association, said the group has 54 members and is always looking for more to join.
Maday said he loves the Kirby Center, and he is looking forward to the classic films.
“I hope they include ‘Casablanca,’” he said.