Luzerne County Redevelopment Authority members want to see if any private developers are interested in buying the landmark New Jersey Central train station in downtown Wilkes-Barre before they entertain a request to donate the historic structure to the county Historical Society.
The authority voted Tuesday to proceed with a property appraisal, which should be completed in 30 days, and publicly seek proposals from interested developers. A request for proposals is near completion and should be publicly released shortly after the appraisal is completed, authority Executive Director Andrew Reilly said.
“Before there’s any talk of handing property over to anyone, we really should see what the property might bear to some developer who can come in and purchase the property from the authority and do a first-class development,” he said.
Expressing concerns about the property’s deterioration, the Historical Society voted in July to request ownership of the site at the corner of Market Street and Wilkes-Barre Boulevard to ensure it will be preserved.
The society is interested in obtaining the entire 6-acre property, which also includes a strip mall. Payment wasn’t offered because society members estimate they must raise around $2 million to demolish deteriorating additions constructed in 1975 and restore the original station.
A prior county administration gave the authority $6.1 million to buy the property for an appraised $5.8 million and start designing a restoration. County Manager Robert Lawton canceled an additional $2 million allocation to the authority in May 2012 to renovate the station for a tourism bureau and other county-related offices, saying he would have a “difficult time” getting business loan funds for a project that won’t create jobs.
Congdon Hynes Appraisal LLC, which handles commercial property valuations in Pennsylvania and New York, will be paid $6,500 to complete an appraisal of the property within 30 days, Reilly said. The property is divided into three parcels — the station, strip mall and vacant land — that will be appraised separately in case prospective developers are interested in only one piece, Reilly said.
Former county controller Walter Griffith urged the authority to act quickly so the station doesn’t “turn into another Hotel Sterling,” but he said he “has concerns” about giving the property to the society when $5.8 million in public funds were spent acquiring it.
Kingston resident Brian Shiner also said he believes the 145-year-old train station should be saved for its historical value, but he does not believe the property should be donated.
Richard Kramer, a certified public accountant from Edwardsville, said he co-chaired the “Save Our Station” committee that removed the train station from demolition as part of the Wilkes-Barre Boulevard construction project in the 1970s. The committee got the station on the National Register of Historic Places.
“It’s a beautiful building. It’s the only remaining railroad station of any consequence in Luzerne County,” he said.
Kramer said he is concerned vandals and other intruders are damaging the structure and asked about security.
Reilly said an authority employee frequently monitors the structure and checks for evidence of break-ins, but the authority does not have funds to mothball the structure.