WILKES-BARRE —The Greater Wilkes-Barre Development Corp. — an arm of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Partnership — will learn today if its $2.4 million gaming funds grant application to restore the Irem Temple mosque on North Franklin Street will be approved.
But state legislators representing the area aren't optimistic.
The historic landmark is deteriorating and Ross McCarty, vice president for real estate, economic development and special projects at the Chamber of Commerce, said the funding is needed to stabilize and secure the building.
“We're waiting with bated breath,” McCarty said Tuesday. “It's not beyond repair; it needs attention now.”
State Rep. Mike Carroll, D-Avoca, spoke on behalf of the northeast delegation, which includes Democratic state Reps. Phyllis Mundy, Eddie Day Pashinski and Gerald Mullery. Carroll said the Commonwealth Finance Authority is scheduled to meet today and announce where Luzerne County's $13 million share of the Local Share Account (gaming funds) will be allocated.
However, Carroll was not optimistic that the Irem mosque will be on the list of grant recipients.
“As is always the case, the total amount requested by the 76 Luzerne County communities far exceeds available funds for many important economic development and community improvement projects throughout the county,” Carroll said.
“Each of us works to balance the competing interests of these communities and their many projects. The application in support of the mosque seeks a very significant investment that could not be addressed in a single year and therefore makes this application especially challenging.”
The Hoyt Library in Kingston received a $1.9 million LSA grant to restore the library after the ceiling caved in over a previously expanded wing as the result of a heavy snow and sleet storm. Carroll said the Hoyt project does not compare to the Irem mosque project.
“The Hoyt was a vibrant, functioning building in the community, and I believe the project was in response to a weather calamity,” he said. “Further, the LSA award and the other funds dedicated for the Hoyt completed the project. The mosque, by comparison, will require millions of dollars of work beyond the request in this year's LSA. There is no comparison of the two.”
Carroll , speaking just for himself, said he believes the chamber needs to identify an entity that can formulate future plans and focus financial resources without solely relying on limited public finances.
McCarty and the chamber have created a Facebook page — Irem Temple Mosque Restoration Project — and he encourages people to contact their elected state and federal officials to support it.
“In order to achieve these goals, we need the people of Northeastern Pennsylvania to make their voices heard,” McCarty said.
Chamber President Bill Moore said he was disappointed to hear Carroll's comments.
“The Irem Temple mosque is a jewel that needs to be saved,” Moore said. “The chamber doesn't have the resources to restore it and maintain it.”
More said thieves have removed all of the copper wiring and piping in the building, leaving it with no electricity and no heat.
“The bronze railings have been removed and all the copper piping has been removed. We need to get heat and electricity back to the building or it could hasten the deterioration.”
Moore said the chamber has been formulating a plan to identify an entity/developer, but he said the immediate need is to secure the building so it can be preserved for future restoration and development — and make it marketable.
The mosque sits just a few steps from another former city landmark — the Hotel Sterling — which is expected to be demolished in the spring.
“We can't keep losing these historical sites,” McCarty said.