By Denise Allabaugh, Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice
WILKES-BARRE — Forty-eight new apartments soon will be added to the 14-story Citizens Bank building on West Market Street in downtown Wilkes-Barre.
The eighth floor of the building was already converted to 12 apartments and the additional apartments will be constructed on the fourth through seventh floors, said Michele Dempsey, owner of DxDempsey in Scranton, the architect for the project.
Downtown living has become a trend among young professionals and empty-nesters, Dempsey said.
“People want to live in cities,” she said. “They like the vibrant nature, the walkability and being close to amenities.”
The latest construction brings the private investment in apartments downtown up to $10 million over the last few years, said Wilkes-Barre Councilman Tony Brooks.
“It shows you that people are attracted to living in downtown areas,” Brooks said. “It’s a trend that is happening across America. As a government official, I’m pleased to see the trend is coming to Wilkes-Barre.”
Since 2012, 150 new market-rate residential units have been added downtown as the result of the rehabilitation of eight different historic buildings, said Larry Newman, executive director of the Diamond City Partnership.
That doesn’t include the latest phase at the Citizens Bank building or the 21 condominiums at Elevation Lofts, which were completed in conjunction with the movie theater project, he said.
“Downtown Wilkes-Barre offers a live/work, walk-to-everything lifestyle that is increasingly desirable to millennials, but is unavailable elsewhere in the region,” Newman said.
Nicholas Dye of D&D Realty, who acquired the PNC Bank building in downtown Wilkes-Barre across from the Citizens Bank building, said the 40 upscale apartments created there are full and there is a waiting list.
Additional apartments D&D Realty created in Hampton Park East and West and the Alleghany Lofts in downtown Wilkes-Barre also are full, he said.
“The market is very strong right now,” Dye said. “The more people we have in the downtown community, the better off all of us will be.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 30 percent of wage-earning downtown residents walk to work, compared to 3 percent of Luzerne County residents, and downtown Wilkes-Barre is where most of the Wyoming Valley’s office employment is located.
“All of downtown’s other offerings — restaurants, shopping, the F.M. Kirby Center, Movies 14 — are also at residents’ doorsteps,” Newman said.
A survey by the National Association of Realtors found that 62 percent of respondents aged 18 to 29 prefer to live in walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Luzerne County residents who were college graduates under age 35 increased by 29 percent between 2000 to 2015 but in downtown, that same group saw a 101 percent increase during that same time period.
“The same factors make downtown living very attractive to a smaller but still significant group of older ‘empty-nest’ households, who like the idea of being able to downsize and live in an urban mixed-use environment,” Newman said.
Newman added that some professionals moving here from other areas are already comfortable with downtown living and they are looking for similar options when they move to the Wyoming Valley.
“And, once you put enough new residents downtown, it has a self-reinforcing effect, meaning that downtown living only becomes more attractive, generating additional demand,” he said.