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Hub enhancement

Intermodal Center to improve Square

The $25 million Intermodal Center is designed to reshape Public Square by clearing congestion and adding downtown parking.

S. John Wilkin/The Times Leader

A LCTA bus leaves Public Square after dropping off passengers. When the Intermodal Center opens, buses won’t be making stops at the Square anymore.

Phil Rudy, owner of Circles Deli on Public Square, explains how the sidewalks and curbs will soon be altered for better parking opportunities.

Don Carey photos/The Times Leader

WILKES-BARRE – At one time Phil Rudy contemplated setting out tables and chairs in front of his busy deli on Public Square.

The buses idling nearby changed his mind.

“You can’t sit in bus exhaust and eat,” Rudy said Tuesday after the lunch rush at his Circles on the Square.

He might give the thought another chance once the downtown Intermodal Center becomes the hub for public and private transportation in the coming months.

The $25 million center is designed to reshape the Square by clearing congestion, adding parking and increasing the visibility of storefronts, businesses and restaurants that now are hidden by buses picking up and dropping off riders.

“It’s going to be like now but better,” Rudy predicted.

In the shadow of the center located between South Washington and South Main streets, the city has been planning further improvements under its Streetscape Enhancement Project.

What started with the installation of light poles in the downtown will continue with new sidewalks, curbs, trees, bicycle racks, kiosks, benches, garbage receptacles and signs.

The project, estimated to cost $1 million, will be put out for bid, and construction should begin with the next 60 days, said Mayor Tom Leighton.

The work will be limited to the section of the Square between South Main and West Market streets and along both sides of South Main.

“It has the most pedestrian traffic,” Leighton explained as to why that area was selected first for construction.

The entire Square will be redone, he added, and he acknowledged any major project, like paving streets, takes time. “You can’t do everything at once,” he said.

Still to be decided is the final design. What has been presented so far has drawn a favorable response. “People are generally excited,” Leighton said.

At least the people who know about the plans are.

Bettye Lou Bovolick, co-owner of the Anthracite Newstand on the eastern tip of the Square, had not heard of them.

“I certainly hope so,” Bovolick said about the prospect of new sidewalks and other improvements.

“The best thing done downtown has been the new street lights,” she said.

The loss of bus service on the Square could hurt her business. Bovolick expects there will be a dip in the number of people who stop by while waiting for transfers.

Beyond that, it’s hard to say until the center opens. “No one really knows,” Bovolick said.

The store can depend upon its loyal clientele, she added, and maybe pick up some people who head uptown from the center to work or shop.

The move to the Intermodal Center will take the Martz Trailways terminal with it.

The present terminal located behind the Square in the Martz Towers building will shift operations south a few blocks. Martz will operate the ticket agencies for its buses as well as Greyhound and Capitol Trailways, said Frank Henry, scion of the family owned Martz Group.

Henry said the space Martz vacated will be leased, but no tenant has yet been signed up.

The center will centralize transportation services, which Henry supports. “That’s what most cities have gone to,” he said.

“I think it’s a good thing. It brings everything together to one location.”

Downtown property owner Rob Finlay of Humford Equities held a similar opinion and compared the center to Grand Central Station or the Port Authority in New York City.

“It’s going to benefit the entire downtown,” Finlay said.

The center will have passageways for people parking in the garage and disembarking from buses to walk to the downtown retail district, which includes anchor store Boscov’s.

The anchor is supposed to drive the traffic, Finlay said. But in Boscov’s case, most of the traffic “was going into the back door” on South Franklin Street. The new arrangement should change that.

Boscov’s owner Al Boscov did not return a call requesting comment.

The center is continuing the momentum built up over the past few years with the construction of the Northampton Street theater project and influx of restaurants and bars in the downtown, Finlay said.

Others are picking up on the vibe and have been calling about the availability of space. “They want to be part of it,” Finlay said.

The center’s parking garage was something Bill Geary and Bill Fraser were waiting for before they committed to the downtown.

Geary’s Los Angeles-based Carlsberg Management Co. purchased the retail space in the theater block, now named University Commons. Fraser, director of retail services of Colliers International is working with Carlsberg.

The 750 new parking spaces are what national and regional chains want to have for their locations, Fraser said. Without them, “they won’t even look at it,” he said.

The parking garage will provide covered access to University Commons and patrons want that convenience, Fraser said.

“If it’s not convenient, it’s not going to be successful,” he said.

Most of the street-level retail space in the development is vacant, but there has been interest, Geary said. The job of filling it would that much harder without the parking spaces.

“If we didn’t have this garage going we wouldn’t be able to lease anything,” Geary said.

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