WILKES-BARRE — The city is shopping its downtown properties cleared during emergency demolition and sweetening the offer with the prospect of tax exemptions associated with a Keystone Opportunity Zone.
The city condemned its vacant structures last October that were in danger of collapse and entered a $194,861 contract to tear them down while leaving stand two other privately owned buildings located in the middle of the cluster.
Earlier this week, the city put out a request for proposals for development of the properties at 69, 71, 73-75 S. Main St. with a March 6 response deadline. The city would like to see multistory, mixed-use development on the site to include ground-floor specialty retail shops and restaurants and office or residential space above, similar to the University Corners property across the street.
“We will look at every plan,” said Mayor Tom Leighton on Wednesday. “We won’t come in and say we’re going to favor one over the other. We’re definitely going to look at it and then see what we feel is the best fit for that corner and the downtown.”
There is no minimum sales price sought by the city, which noted it has invested public funds to acquire the properties and demolish them.
“We’re hoping to get the best price,” Leighton said. “We’re going to work with them and, again, our goal always is to try and have a sale price that would benefit the city of Wilkes-Barre. However, putting in a $15 , $20 million project on that corner will also benefit the city.”
The location of the properties in a KOZ could serve as an incentive to developers. It had already had that designation in 2009 when the city extended the duration to 2025.
The program, run by local taxing bodies such as the city and the state Department of Community and Economic Development, offers credits and exemptions that could reduce the taxes to zero. Among them are: corporate net income; personal income; and sales & use taxes on the state level; property, business privilege and mercantile; and earned income/net profits taxes on the local level.
The properties have a prime location in the busy downtown.
“There’s definitely interest, and that’s why we decided to go this route,” said Greg Barrouk, deputy city administrator.
An engineering report that the city had done while showing a potential developer some of its properties last year led to the condemnation and shutdown of the two privately owned buildings that are not part of the KOZ.
Leighton declared a site emergency on Oct. 31 and sought bids for the demolition, awarding the job to Stell Enterprises Inc. of Plains Township. The facade of the Engel Building at 69 S. Main St. was spared demolition and the city made a point of requiring that it be maintained as part of the new development. The properties at 69 and 67 S. Main St. were connected by an approximate 40-foot section of wall that complicated demolition.
The Place One at the Hollywood dress and gown store at 67. S. Main St. was closed due the dangerous condition of the neighboring property. Michaelene Coffee, the store’s owner, relocated to Scranton and has yet to return.
The owner of Frank Clark Jeweler also relocated to Nanticoke, where she had another store. In mid-December, Ilona Bruns returned to 63 S. Main St. nearly 45 days after closing for the demolition.