WILKES-BARRE —Floors three to 11 are empty.
That’s what is on the board in the lobby of the downtown PNC Bank Building. It lists the only tenant — PNC Bank — which occupies the first and second floor of the 12-story building.
But if plans go forward, those nine floors of the building at Market and Franklin streets will become market-priced condominiums with views of the Susquehanna River and the River Common park. Some office space will also be created, according to the building’s owner.
Ben Oller, of Oller and Associates of Philadelphia, said Monday his real estate investment company owns the building and is partnering with a local developer to renovate the bank building, following the lead of a similar project at the nearby the former Citizens Bank Building, also Market Street. Oller would not disclose the name of the local development company.
“We’re in the process of developing those floors into residences,” Oller said. “We expect the project to begin within this year.”
Oller said his company also owns Interfaith Apartments on Coal Street. He said the condominiums in the PNC Bank Building will be “market-priced.”
Wilkes-Barre attorney Frank Hoegan, who represents Oller and Associates, said a group of investors owns the building and is working with a group of local investors/developers on the project.
“The condominium papers are about to be drafted,” Hoegan said. “Ultimately, a partnership agreement will be drafted.”
Hoegan said he is working with the city to schedule appearances before the planning and zoning boards to get all necessary permits approved. “The architects have been in to look at the building,” he said. “We expect more to be announced in March or April.”
The former Citizens Bank Building is also about to see a renovation. Several floors of the 14-story building will be converted into apartments by the building’s owner/developer, Mendy Gansburg of New York. DxDempsey Architects of Scranton is preparing the drawings for the project.
Kerry Potter, project manager for DxDempsey, said the drawings should be completed within the next few weeks. After that, the city must approve the permits and once that occurs, construction could begin.
As far as rental prices, Potter said it’s too early to tell.
“They will be beautiful apartments,” she said. “Every developer knows his community and that will be taken into consideration when determining rental pricing.”
Potter said the plan calls for 12 apartments to be created per floor. She said the ultimate goal is to transform floors four through 10 into apartments. She said floors one through three will remain commercial space and floors 11 and 12 will retain the current tenants. She said a penthouse on the top floor is hoped to be renovated as well.
Transformation in progress
With these two projects in the works, the city will see a transformation of a corner that was once the financial hub of the downtown into a residential haven for people looking to live in the city.
Two other buildings across Franklin Street from the PNC and Citizens Bank buildings are being marketed by Mericle Development. Steve Barrouk of Mericle said the former Wyoming National Bank Building is now selling for $495,000 — down from the original asking price of $795,000.
Barrouk said Mericle has listed the former bank for four years. He said the recent demolition of the blighted Hotel Sterling may actually increase interest in the building and the downtown in general.
“We don’t have any serious interest in that building right now,” Barrouk said. “But with the Sterling gone, it becomes a more attractive site. And then there is the issue of parking. There just isn’t enough in that immediate area.”
The Citizens Bank building has a parking garage attached, but the PNC building does not have parking.
Barrouk said residential housing would improve the economic development of the downtown.
“Any housing is the best thing that can happen downtown,” he said.
At a recent meeting of the Downtown Wilkes-Barer Business Association, Mayor Tom Leighton said there has been progress in the downtown during recent difficult economic times. Leighton said many new businesses have relocated to the downtown and “we have had a significant increase in downtown residents.”
He also talked about similar changes made to the Luzerne Bank Building, and he mentioned the loft apartments above Movies 14 in the theater complex on Northampton Street.
The mayor has not announced any plans for development of the vacant lot where the Sterling once was and vacant lots on South Main and Northampton streets are expected to draw interest from developers.