By Denise Allabaugh, Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice
WILKES-BARRE — Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tony George told the Downtown Wilkes-Barre Business Association this morning that his goal is to make the downtown a “tourist attraction.”
“We have to change our strategy to bring people in as tourists and make it a college town,” George said at the meeting at city hall.
George said if Berkshire Hathaway GUARD Insurance expands to the city-owned Hotel Sterling property, it would bring in 400 to 500 new jobs.
City council recently authorized city officials to pursue a $1 million gaming grant to facilitate the possible expansion of GUARD.
The company had 553 employees at the end of 2016, with 448 of them working locally and 119 hired in 2016, according to GUARD Chief Operating Officer Carl Witkowski.
The mayor also highlighted improvements underway in downtown Wilkes-Barre such as Pepperjam, the internet marketing business formerly known as eBay Enterprise Marketing Solutions, adding jobs and expanding in the Innovation Center on South Main Street.
Developer George Albert, who is restoring the Market Street Square complex, purchased the Innovation Center last year for $2.6 million.
Albert also bought the city-owned former First National Bank building on Public Square for $700,000 and the mayor said that would restore the building to “grandeur” and bring technology companies there.
“The next thing we have to do is the Irem Temple and we’re working on that and hopefully, something comes to fruition there because that’s a major tourist attraction downtown,” George said.
A fundraiser for the Irem Temple restoration effort will be held Wednesday, Feb. 15 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Westmoreland Club, 59 S. Franklin St., Wilkes-Barre.
The event, which is being planned by organizers of the Irem Temple Restoration and Preservation Fund, is aimed at raising funds to preserve the historic building on North Franklin Street in downtown, which was once a major cultural venue in the Wyoming Valley.