WILKES-BARRE — King’s College confirmed Monday that it has agreed to purchase the Ramada hotel property located at 20 Public Square for $2.7 million.
King’s also is seeking $7 million in state funding to purchase and renovate the hotel to accommodate expansion of its physician assistant program.
The college has applied for the funding through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program that is proposed in state Senate Bill 680. The legislation has been approved by the state House and Senate and is now in Gov. Tom Corbett’s office.
If approved, the legislation would provide the project with $7 million in state funding to be matched by the college, making for a $14 million project.
“The project will include the complete renovation of the facility, and will create state-of-the-art academic space for the college’s Physician Assistant Studies Program, its top-accredited Athletic Training Education Program and a planned Exercise Science Program,” a release from the college stated.
“The property will also advance multiple important goals in the college’s master plan, namely the creation of attractive student housing facilities and increased parking capacity,” the release said.
King’s will convert the downtown, privately owned 105-room hotel to a center to expand the physician’s assistant program that has more than 800 applicants each year. The program has been able to accept only 50 to 100 students.
At one time King’s leased rooms at the Ramada for students, but not in recent years.
The governor has the sole authority to release funding for the proposed projects and can also reduce the amount asked for by the petitioners.
The King’s release said purchasing the hotel advances several high-priority strategic initiatives in one project and demonstrates the college’s commitment to help establish a vibrant downtown, which benefits the college, the city and the larger community.
“We look forward to working with Mayor (Tom) Leighton and other city, county, state, business, and community leaders to make this project a success for Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County, and our entire region,” said Rev. John J. Ryan, C.S.C., college president. “Most especially, this project is being undertaken because it will benefit those whom we are committed to serve each day — King’s College students.”
Tom Smith, chairman of the college’s Board of Directors, said, “This is a remarkable opportunity for our community and the board enthusiastically supports this important strategic commitment.”
According to the agreement of the parties, King’s will take possession of the facility in late December and anticipates beginning work in early January. It is expected that the first phase will be completed in mid-August 2014.
Panzitta Enterprises Inc. is the general contractor managing the project, and Williams Kinsman Lewis Architecture is the firm that designed the plans. The first phase of the renovation is expected to cost approximately $11.5 million.
Last week, King’s spokesman John McAndrew said there are 97 students in first or second year of the professional phase of the physician assistant studies program and 245 enrolled in the five-year BS/MS pre-physician assistant studies majors.
He said the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that physician assistants will be the second-fastest-growing profession in the next decade with a median salary of $90,000 annually.
Should the Ramada be sold to King’s, a non-profit educational institution, the property would no longer generate property or hotel tax revenue. It would also leave Genetti’s as the lone downtown hotel.
Leighton said the city administration is committed to fostering development that keeps Public Square a thriving and attractive hub for economic development and residential living.
“The city can ill afford another vacant property in the center of town, and King’s College has a proven track record of returning vacant properties to productive use,” the mayor said. “The increased presence of faculty, staff, and students downtown is a good thing for other business owners in the city.”
He said the expansion of the King’s programs and the creation of a new Exercise Science degree will bring more people into the community who will live and work in the city long after they graduate.
“We must continue to harness the natural assets of Northeastern Pennsylvania, which has an abundance of health care and educational institutions,” Leighton said. “I look forward to collaborating with the school on this exciting opportunity.”
King’s estimates the new center will generate more than $1 million annually for downtown businesses.
Owner speaks out
Tony Grosek, owner of the Ramada, said the King’s plan to develop the Ramada really is the highest and best use of this property.
“This is a very positive development for Wilkes-Barre and the region,” Grosek said.
Recognizing the need to assist the Ramada’s current long-term-stay and event clientele, Grosek is working with King’s and Gus Genetti, owner of the Best Western Hotel and Conference Center in Downtown Wilkes-Barre, to provide transition support to those customers.
State Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, said the King’s executive team briefed him on the project.
“It appears to be a quality project that will benefit the downtown, the college and the region,” said Yudichak, whose district includes Wilkes-Barre. He said the project and all others in SB-680 are at the mercy of the governor.
Kirsten Page, spokeswoman for the governor, said Monday each project must submit a business plan that is then scored using criteria including job creation, economic impact and shovel readiness. She said the Governor’s Office does not comment on individual or potential projects.