Our Opinion: Many reasons to be bullish on Wilkes-Barre’s future

i Feb 23rd 2016

By the Editorial Board, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader

At the risk of sounding like Wilkes-Barre’s unabashed cheerleaders, we’ll say it again: This city has a lot going for it.

Don’t believe us? Just read.

Luzerne County’s largest city continues to rebound from its dark days of more than a decade ago – when lamp posts throughout the downtown collapsed or were removed because corrosion had turned them into wind-detonated hazards.

Yes, obstacles to progress remain hanging over us today; chief among them are perceptions about the place, criminal activity that squelches an influx of new residents and an aging housing stock. But the city appears poised in 2016 for a new round of growth and development, much of it fueled by private investment rather than solely the people’s tax dollars.

We highlighted this encouraging situation in Sunday’s editorial, which listed some of the reasons to be bullish about Wilkes-Barre’s future. After recapping them here, we’ll supply another half dozen that we previously didn’t have space to include – a growing body of evidence that suggests things, despite what you might have heard, are getting better all the time.

• Downtown housing units continue to fill. More conversions of former offices into apartments and condos have been announced or are underway.

• An arts district might soon take shape on South Main Street, anchored by Wilkes University’s soon-to-be-relocated Sordoni Art Gallery.

• Three newly formed residents’ associations are pulling together people from the city’s neighborhoods. Each group aims to conduct community-enhancing projects.

• King’s College and Wilkes University seemingly remain committed to investing in property acquisitions and campus upgrades, rejuvenating certain city blocks.

• The downtown’s restaurant district – essentially non-existent 12 years ago – continues to sustain a variety of businesses to please a range of palates (French, Italian, Thai and so on).

• A grocery store catering to downtown residents and workers supposedly will open this spring.

• A new hotel and conference center, announced in October by outgoing Mayor Tom Leighton, reportedly will begin taking shape early this year. “We anticipate that this project could transform the city,” Leighton said when unveiling plans for the $28 million project at South Main and Northampton streets.

• New entrepreneurs and longtime business owners demonstrate faith in the city each time they open the doors, expand operations or reinvest in their facilities. Witness, for instance, the recent grand reopening of Wet Paint Printing and Design in South Wilkes-Barre.

• Unsung heroes, including city workers and the people who power the Diamond City Partnership, continue to plot a course for city renewal, with projects such as Public Square’s makeover.

Don’t believe it? Just watch.