Luzerne County Engineer Jim Brozena explains the entire scope of the county’s riverfront project to members of the Downtown Wilkes-Barre Business Association on Friday.Times Leader Staff Photo/Clark Van Orden
WILKES-BARRE – Local business representatives walked into a Friday morning meeting on the county’s riverfront recreation project already excited about the basic elements of the plan.
But they walked out with even more enthusiasm after seeing the full scope of the plan through sketches and photos of other riverfront projects – the images of similar projects across the county that provided inspiration for Luzerne County’s design.
“I was really impressed,” said Gretchen Sevison, secretary of the Downtown Wilkes-Barre Business Association. “It was unimaginable to me. … It’s awesome.”
County Engineer Jim Brozena, project manager, described an illuminated amphitheater by the river where street performers would display their talents. He talked about a grand staircase made of granite, leading visitors toward a river landing where they can fish and take part in festivals. And he mentioned how lighted portals, which will be 60 feet wide and 12 feet high and made of “high-end finishes,” will entice people to gather near the river.
“Everyone’s going to be surprised by the level of sophistication when it’s done,” said Brozena, who was invited to speak to the association at King’s College.
“This is the county’s one bite at the apple and if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right,” Brozena said. “This is certainly going to transform the downtown.”
The portals will be constructed through the levee on River Street at Northampton Street and across from the Irem Temple. The Northampton Street portal will lead to a portico and ramp that descends to a 700-seat amphitheater. The other will lead to a 1.2-acre landing area that contains areas for exhibits and events, a fishing platform and dock.
“It’s exciting,” said Kim Rosentel, a new association member. “It gives you a perspective of what Wilkes-Barre could be.”
Rosentel, who bikes and rollerblades with her children on top of the levee system, said she would love to attend shows at the amphitheater.
Association member Denise Balkan said downtown Wilkes-Barre, which has added several new businesses lately and has new streetlights, is much more attractive now, and the riverfront project will add more appeal.
“It doesn’t seem so scary to come to the downtown,” she said.
The $22.6 million project will be funded by federal, state and county money and could be completed within three years, Brozena said.
The project also includes plans to reduce River Street from four lanes to two lanes near the portals to create an island in the road where plants and trees will be planted.