Vacant bank building in downtown Wilkes-Barre still focus of developer

i Jan 20th 2017

By Jerry Lynott, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader

WILKES-BARRE — A developer still has his eyes on the former First National Bank building downtown and will discuss his plans for the vacant property on Public Square at next Tuesday’s city council work session.

The city continues to advertise the property for sale, however, because no deal has been signed with George Albert, who wants to remake the vacant bank building into an innovation center that’s home to technology companies.

“Our vision remains the same,” Albert said Friday.

He said he has one tenant for the property and others will be added to the list.

Albert acknowledged there is no agreement between him and the city, but there is something for the city to consider.

“We submitted an offer in writing to the city,” he said.

If city council approves the sale, Albert said he would like to fast track the project to meet a fall deadline for completion.

The property has already received a great deal of attention structurally, financially and strategically with millions spent on the building and millions more promised to develop it as part of Innovation Squared, public and private initiative to attract high-tech companies with well paying jobs to the downtown.

Wilkes-Barre bought the building in a Luzerne County delinquent tax sale and mothballed it while it looked to sell it. The city spent more than $1.3 million in state grants to stabilize the structure built in 1906. The state committed another $2 million to locate a new innovation center in the bank.

Its location and availability made it attractive to Albert who’s been active in the downtown and searching for a new site for the center that’s being displaced with the expansion of internet marketing company Pepperjam.

The company has its headquarters and offices on the upper floors of the former Innovation Center @ Wilkes-Barre. Albert’s company Albert Holdings I LLC bought the Innovation Center last year for $2.6 million from the Greater Wilkes-Barre Development Corp, an arm of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce.

Albert, along with other investors, is also developing the former New Jersey Central train station along South Wilkes-Barre Boulevard. Market Square Properties Development LLC bought the property from the Luzerne County Redevelopment Authority for $1.2 million last year.