WILKES-BARRE — State and federal funds paid for the latest phase of the city’s latest streetscape project, and Mayor Tom Leighton on Thursday said more money will be sought to complete the improvements downtown.
Sheltered from the rain under the overhang of an office building on Public Square, Leighton and more than a dozen state, city and local economic development officials stood on a section of concrete sidewalk poured in the summer and marked the completion of Phase 5 of the project with a ribbon cutting.
The mayor thanked the downtown businesses for their patience during construction that brought new walks, trees and curbing on a quarter of the Square from South Main Street to North Main Street and along East Market Street to Washington Street.
He stopped short of giving a starting date for the next phase.
“We are thoroughly working hard to get additional funding to complete that side of Public Square over by the Ramada and the inside of Public Square, and hopefully some day we’ll have a fountain back in operation downtown,” he said.
The city received $350,000 from the Federal Highway Administration and $600,000 from PennDOT through the state’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program and other sources to cover the $1.2 million price tag for the latest work. More than $10 million has been spent on downtown improvements, starting with the installation of new streetlights back when Ed Rendell was governor.
The work has gotten the attention of people who travel to the city to see their children at King’s College and Wilkes University, play ice hockey at the Coal Street rink or for dinner at downtown restaurants, Leighton said.
“I can’t tell you the compliments that we’re getting from the number of visitors that come into our city on the weekends and during the week,” he said.
Business owners will soon have something to be happy about when the city installs approximately 40 parking meters around the square, the mayor added.
Parking had been free for a while, and that was a temporary move, he explained. The short-term parking provided by the meters is designed to benefit store owners with a constant turnover.
“There’s still things that we’re working on to improve the parking, both on-street and in the garages,” Leighton said.
State Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, said lawmakers worked with Gov. Tom Corbett’s office to obtain funding.
“None of it would happen if we didn’t work together as a group,” said Pashinski, a city resident.
The city is seeking assistance from the state on other projects beside the streetscape, said Harry Forbes, director of the Governor’s Northeast Regional Office in Scranton.
“This is an exciting time for Wilkes-Barre,” Forbes said. “We had the pleasure of working with (the mayor) yesterday looking at other projects just going around the city and seeing what has happened over the last several years under the mayor and his staff.”