Last updated: March 28. 2013 11:40PM - 4972 Views
By - jlynott@civitasmedia.com - (570) 991-6120

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WILKES-BARRE — A deal to sell the downtown theater and surrounding retail space to real estate developer Joe Amato avoided foreclosure on the complex and a delay on the acquisition.

His company, City Centre L.P., purchased the $8.4 million mortgage that had been called back by the group of banks that issued it.

Amato, of Moosic, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

But William Moore, president of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry, said Amato was eager to get to work.

The chamber’s South Main Street Redevelopment LLC sold its minority interest to City Centre for $1, according to a deed in lieu of foreclosure recorded March 22 by the Luzerne County Recorder of Deeds.

South Main Street took out the mortgage that was assumed by University Corners LLC in 2008 as the chamber looked to reduce its financial exposure in the $31 million project it spearheaded along East Northampton and South Main streets.

The chamber and William Geary Jr., whose Los Angeles, Calif.-based Carlsberg Properties Inc. managed University Corners, voted to transfer the deed to move along the sale without going through foreclosure, Moore said Wednesday.

“It would have delayed the transfer of the property to Mr. Amato unnecessarily,” Moore said.

Geary, of Manhattan Beach, Calif., could not be reached for comment.

He filed for bankruptcy in California and faced financial and legal problems related to other developments while attempting to fill the retail space around the anchor-tenant R/C Wilkes-Barre Movies 14. With the aid of the city, he received $1 million in funds provided by the state from gambling revenues to complete the interiors of the street-level store fronts.

The city, with the permission of the state Department of Community and Economic Development, split the funds into a grant and loan that was to be repaid in full next year by Geary’s company. In order to speed up the sale, the city earlier this month restructured the $500,000 loan as a grant and did not hold the new buyer liable for repaying it.

Moore said he looks forward to having Amato, a former drag racing champion, as the new owner.

“His track record is phenomenal,” Moore said.

He acknowledged the chamber was not making money on the sale. “I think it’s been well-documented that the chamber invested a lot of money in it,” Moore said.

The project remains a success, drawing close to 600,000 people to the theater that opened in 2006, Moore added.

The residential component that is separate from the theater and retail space also has done well. The 22 loft condominiums that were built have been sold, he said.

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