Our view: It’s a great time to come downtown

i Nov 4th 2018

By: Wilkes-Barre Times Leader

Downtown Wilkes-Barre has it going on.

Just in case you missed it, we ran a story the other day looking at some of the recent events downtown, and some of those coming up.

About 2,000 people — children and adults — turned out last week for the Halloween party on and around Public Square.

That’s an impressive number for a weekday afternoon. Having been there ourselves, we can tell you that the atmosphere was positive and fun.

Lest we forget, the annual Veterans Day parade is set for Sunday, Nov. 11, beginning at Kingston Corners and ending on Public Square.

On the following Saturday, Nov. 17, Santa Claus will come to town as the Christmas parade rolls through the downtown to kick off the holiday shopping season, which will include Small Business Saturday and the return of the very successful Holiday Pop-Up Shops.

The city will also once again host the Old Fashioned Holiday Market on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day.

Do we sound like civic boosters to you? Darn right we are!

We can remember when downtown Wilkes-Barre was a place many people avoided. Concerns about crime were very real, and to be honest the whole aura was unpleasant and sketchy.

We aren’t pretending there aren’t still issues to be dealt with, but center city is a vastly more welcoming and lively place now than it was 15 or 20 years ago.

As we have said before, we believe that the Downtown Wilkes-Barre Business Improvement District (BID), which is set to renew for a second decade, has been a major driver in that change. Since 2007, under its stewardship, there has been more than $100 million of private investment downtown, as well as a net gain of 47 occupied storefronts and 205 new market-rate housing units.

That’s right, people don’t just shop, eat and work downtown, they live there as well.

The BID also has raised funds for cleaning and beautification projects, funding additional police patrols, securing grant funding for new directional signs and facade improvements, attracting business and residential development, and marketing the district to local, regional and national audiences.

And, as alluded to, the Diamond City Partnership, which manages the BID program, has worked with businesses city officials to stage events that bring visitors downtown.

We know what the cynics question the BID’s value, and question whether the transformation is real.

They are entitled to their opinion. We feel they are wrong, and that the evidence supports us.

We also hear the much more legitimate concerns of city residents who feel the residential neighborhoods need love and attention.

Yes, they do. But why does that have to come at the expense of downtown? A healthy center city and healthy neighborhoods need not be mutually exclusive.

The BID is a special funding mechanism that was set up for the purpose, successfully leveraging public and private money.

The city and the region benefit from a healthy downtown. That’s not just the work of the BID, but thanks to major players such as Boscov’s, King’s College, Wilkes-University, the F.M. Kirby Center, Movies 14, together with small businesses and eateries, who help make it a vibrant place to visit.

We know city officials, including the police and code departments, have been working on strategies to clean up the neighborhoods, such blitzes using the Neighborhood Impact Team. That should be encouraged and funded to the extent possible.

But whatever we do, we all need to fight to keep downtown Wilkes-Barre clean, safe and vibrant as the cultural and business hub of the Wyoming Valley.

If you haven’t come downtown lately, check it out.

— Times Leader