Public Square upgrade gets $200k, more time and money needed to complete

i Jul 7th 2016

By Jerry Lynott, Times Leader

WILKES-BARRE — Funding to redo Public Square grew with the award of an additional state grant. But for it to be done right, more money will be needed, said an official involved in the project.

The city of Wilkes-Barre received a $200,000 Local Share Account grant last week in addition to $75,000 awarded last year through the program funded by gambling revenues from the Mohegan Sun Pocono casino in Plains Township.

Larry Newman, executive director of the Diamond City Partnership, welcomed the latest award of funds and said it will help with the project designed to breathe new life into the public space. Around the perimeter of the square and throughout the downtown, there has been new investment by businesses, restaurants and developers converting largely vacant buildings into apartments and condominiums.

“It’s commonly understood the current state of Public Square is not living up to its full potential,” Newman said.

He was reluctant to attach a dollar amount and said it will likely take a couple years to complete.

“This is going to have to be a phased project. We’re not in a resource environment that allows us to get all of the money at once,” Newman said Tuesday.

The DCP, the management organization for the downtown, and the city have taken the lead in the project and partnered with local architectural firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson and the National Resource Network, a component of a federal initiative created for struggling municipalities looking to spur economic development.

The NRN has nearly completed its recommendations, and that should set the stage for the architects to begin talking about design components, Newman said.

“It’s been a nice partnership so far, but we’re very much in the planning stages,” he said.

The public and local civic groups and organizations will be able to provide input on the project that entails more than putting in new sidewalks, fixing the fountain and landscaping. The last time the square was completely redesigned was in the mid 1970s, Newman said.

Since then, so much has been learned about creating good, well-functioning public spaces, Newman said. It would be “nice to apply a lot of those lessons,” so the square not only looks good when it’s packed with people for the farmers market, but “on an average Tuesday,” he added.