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Planned Downtown W-B Hotel Making Slow Progress

November 1, 2017 GMT

WILKES-BARRE — A developer sought demolition bids for two downtown buildings this week, as plans to build a $28 million hotel and conference center on the building lots and adjacent land slowly progress.

Local attorney Jack Dean, representing Sphere International LLC, said on Tuesday that he requested bids from two contractors to demolish the vacant Place One at the Hollywood and Frank Clark Jeweler buildings on South Main Street near West Northampton Street.

“I also solicited prices for a phase-I environmental study (in which) we have an engineer go out and determine if there’s any pollution on the site,” Dean said.

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The development, first announced exactly two years ago Tuesday, is significantly behind schedule, given that former mayor Tom Leighton initially estimated that project construction would begin in early 2016 and that the facility would be open by fall 2017.

City Administrator Ted Wampole has said the development had been lagging because of the various deeds the developer had to acquire in order to get all the parcels needed to break ground.

The sale of only one parcel still remains to be closed — the Place One at the Hollywood building, owned by Barbara Coffee. And demolition can’t begin until the sale is finalized, Dean said.

Michaelene Coffee, who re-opened her Place One at the Hollywood clothing store in downtown Scranton after Wilkes-Barre officials condemned her mother’s building in 2013, said she’s been waiting a couple weeks to hear back from Sphere officials about closing the deal.

“It’s very frustrating,” Coffee said of the wait, adding that she regularly drives to Wilkes-Barre to deliver dresses to her Wyoming Valley customers so they don’t have to deal with construction on Interstate 81.

Coffee said on Tuesday that she and Sphere officials have agreed on a sales price, but she’s waiting for the company to finalize some contract language that she considered “not that big of a deal.”

She said the developers gave her no timeline for a closing.

Asked if she plans to re-open a store in Wilkes-Barre, Coffee said she had wanted to open one in some first-floor retail space of the hotel/convention center, but that will depend on how long it takes the developers to complete the project.

The City of Wilkes-Barre condemned the buildings housing her store and the Frank Clark Jeweler store because of the structural threat adjacent city-owned buildings with shared walls posed to them.

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The city demolished its adjacent buildings in 2013, but the owners elected not to immediately move back in. Not long after, the owners were made sales offers.

Sphere International bought the jewelry store property at 63 S. Main St. for $265,000 from Ken L. Pollock Inc. in July 2016.

Also in 2016, city council approved the sale of the city-owned parcels to Sphere for $500,000.

The plans Sphere unveiled in October 2015 featured a 10-story building that would include a 100-room hotel, luxury apartments, condominiums, retail shops, and banquet and meeting space.

Sphere officials have not attached a specific name to the project, nor identified which hotel chain they plan to partner with. Neither have they released an estimate of the number of jobs the project would create.

Hitesh Patel, one of the principles of the project, was not available for an interview on Tuesday.

Contact the writer:

smocarsky@citizensvoice.com

570-821-2110

@SteveMocarskyCV