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Funding derails Market Street train complex

The Market Street Square train station in downtown Wilkes-Barre continues to deteriorate.

CLARK VAN ORDEN / THE TIMES LEADER

The Market Street Square train station in downtown Wilkes-Barre is still empty and deteriorating, three years after it was purchased for $5.8 million with Luzerne County community development funds.

The reason: there’s no money to refurbish the historic structure.

Renovation has been pegged at $3.5 million under a design plan approved by the Luzerne County Redevelopment Authority, which owns the property.

The authority is thinking about downsizing the project scope due to the lack of funds, said authority Director Allen Bellas.

“We’ll probably have to scale that back and not make such a grandiose plan,” Bellas said.

That will likely mean renovating the original brick train station but not the attached box cars and other additions. Plans to create an eatery and banquet areas have already been eliminated, he said.

Bellas estimates the project could be whittled down to $2 million.

The authority had hoped to obtain some funding from a county bond in 2007, but that fell through, Bellas said.

He has been pushing, unsuccessfully so far, for federal stimulus money.

“This project is just about shovel-ready, and it would create jobs for skilled workers – carpenters, plumbers, electricians and laborers,” Bellas said. “We’ve been talking to anybody who would listen to try to get money for the station.”

Two developers have inquired about the parcel, but they’re more interested in building on the 6.5 acres around the train station, Bellas said. The authority wants the train station developed first because the station is the reason county commissioners supplied $5.8 million in county community development funds to buy the property from Thom Greco, he said.

County commissioners had also originally thought that some of the money from land sales could return to the county to replenish the $5.8 million spent on the purchase.

“Our game plan is to develop the train station and then look to the rest of the site,” Bellas said.

If funding doesn’t materialize soon, the authority may consider borrowing money, though Bellas stressed the agency would need some long-term tenant lease commitments before borrowing.

County officials had always envisioned the Luzerne County Convention and Visitors Bureau as one of the anchor tenants.

Bureau Director Merle Mackin said the agency is willing to move from Public Square but can’t afford to pay much more than its current rent of about $1,900 per year, especially now that the agency faces a 40-percent state funding cut.

The train station, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, still contains original paneling, molding and stained glass windows, though the windows have been put in storage because of a theft attempt.

“With the train station, Huber Breaker and other major projects, the possibilities are endless, but it just comes down to the money,” Mackin said.

Bellas acknowledged that he’s received some complaints about the appearance of the property, but he the authority needs money to start work. He said he will assign a maintenance worker to do some exterior clean-up this spring.

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