By Bill Wellock, Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice
WILKES-BARRE — About six acres of land in downtown Wilkes-Barre and a former train station are now in the hands of a local developer.
By the end of the year, the old train station on Market Street and Wilkes-Barre Boulevard could look different. The vines crawling up the building may be gone and the graffiti painted over.
George Albert, a local engineer and developer, closed on the sale of the property in the Market Street Square complex on Friday. The Redevelopment Authority of Luzerne County sold the properties to Albert’s company for the project, Market Square Properties Development, for $1.2 million.
Albert is the leader in a group of five investors who have development plans for the site. Patrick Hadley, president of Hadley Construction, and Santino Ferretti, owner of N & B Enterprises, are also partners, as are two other silent partners.
The group’s plans include renovating the station, which will hold Albert’s office and a real estate firm, and could be home to a bank on its first floor. The group also plans to renovate an existing retail building that is currently home to two tenants, Gold Star Wide Format and a nail salon, and is looking for more tenants for the rest of that space.
Albert also plans to build a fast food restaurant near the corner next to the train station. He will go to a city planning commission meeting in July to seek permits for that work.
Albert plans to complete renovations on the train station and existing retail buildings within three months and hopes to have the restaurant completed by the end of the year.
The group is planning a parking lot and other buildings in the rest of the property and looking for tenants. Albert said he is marketing that future development to about a dozen different franchises.
“That’s a work in progress,” he said.
A McDonald’s restaurant and Citizens Bank branch are also on the block but are not part of the sale.
The site was the property of the Redevelopment Authority of Luzerne County for a decade, after the authority bought the station and adjoining parcels from businessman Thom Greco for $5.8 million in 2006. Luzerne County provided funding to the authority for the sale.
County government and the authority kicked around plans for the property, but nothing materialized and the property stood vacant.
County commissioners approved $2 million for renovations, but after the government changed because of the home rule charter, county Manager Robert Lawton asked the authority to sell the complex instead.
An independent appraisal in 2013 from Congdon Hynes Appraisal LLC of Endwell, New York, put the complex’s value at about $1.9 million. Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Andy Reilly said that estimate was for the “highest and best use” of the property, which would have included demolishing the dilapidated but historical train station for new construction.
Reilly, who didn’t work for the authority in 2006, said the recent sale was the best deal the authority was able to get with the property’s current condition.
“The property is now back on the tax rolls after several years of being off the tax rolls,” he said.
The proceeds from the sale will go to the county’s community development fund.