By Denise Allabaugh, Wilkes-Barre Citizens’ Voice
WILKES-BARRE — Demolition started Monday at the Market Street Square complex to make way for new development.
Old train cars are being removed but the historic train station will remain and be renovated, said developer George Albert, whose company bought the train station and six acres of land for $1.2 million from the Luzerne County Redevelopment Authority.
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 also are involved as are two other silent partners.
Albert said the group’s plan includes renovating the station and it will hold his office and a real estate firm on the second floor.
They are working on attracting a bank to open on the first floor and Albert said Monday it looks “very promising.” He said he could not disclose which bank until leases are signed.
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 he is looking for more tenants for the rest of the space.
He said he hopes to attract six to eight tenants in the building but could not say who they are until leases are signed.
The first step is demolition, which is expected to take about two weeks, Albert said.
The Market Street Square complex belonged to the Luzerne County Redevelopment Authority for a decade. 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 authority officials discussed plans for the property, but nothing materialized and it stood vacant for years.
Larry Newman, executive director of the Diamond City Partnership, said he thinks it’s wonderful that the Lehigh & Susquehanna Railroad Station — constructed in 1868 and later known as the Central Railroad of New Jersey Station — is being restored.
“It’s about time,” Newman said. “It was heartbreaking to see a building that has such historic significance to the city and to the region, a building that had been so lovingly rehabilitated in the 1970s by the late Marvin Roth, fall into such disrepair and come so close to being lost again.”
The Market Street Square complex formerly featured clubs such as Peanuts, the BeBop Cafe and later, Banana Joe’s.
When the late Marvin Roth owned the complex and the Station restaurant was in full swing in the 1970s and 1980s, Newman remembered when it was an attraction in downtown Wilkes-Barre.
“It’s such a distinctive building and there is no other and was no other railroad station like it in the U.S. in terms of it architectural characteristics,” he said.
The irony is that it is located across from the historic Stegmaier Brewery and when people drove to the Station, they saw how dilapidated the brewery was, Newman said.
In the 1990s, the brewery was restored and then the railroad station later fell into disrepair, he said.
“Now, finally we’re going to have the railroad station restored as a companion piece to the Stegmaier Brewery,” Newman said. “They’re both very important historic landmark structures.”