Last updated: February 16. 2013 11:24PM - 255 Views

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Others might see it as too big a challenge or perhaps not even imagine what it could be, but when George Tassone looks at the former Empire Silk Mill his vision is of a thriving mixed-use development. Renters of luxury apartments on the upper floors are arriving home from work and getting a quick workout in the on-site fitness club before heading downstairs for dinner at the Brazilian steakhouse. Clients come and go from the day spa, or stop by to gaze at the paintings in the first-floor art gallery.

It's been nine years since Tassone's Empire Street Realty bought the 80,000-square-foot building and 3 acres of land for $100,000, thinking it was an affordable place to move his Pool Factory business. Sometime later, Tassone began to see more possibilities in the 114-year-old brick walls and maple flooring, and in September 2007 he received zoning approval to build offices, apartments, a restaurant and a fitness club.

But just as his plans were coming together, the economy was falling apart. Since then Tassone has used a series of refinancings to keep his dream alive while turning his other business interests around. Realizing he couldn't afford to do it all at once, he refinished some of the ground floor into restaurant space and began equipping a kitchen. Then a partner in the restaurant fell ill, making its planned late October opening uncertain.

During a recent tour, Tassone showed off the work done so far and described the spacious apartments and amenities he believes would turn the former factory in Wilkes-Barre into a highly profitable – and highly satisfying – venture. But he needs help, whether it's someone to help run the restaurant or a partner with the $3 million to $4 million he says it will take to realize the project. In the meantime, he's turned down at least one purchase offer, although he says he might be tempted by a better one.

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