Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton stands on the top level of the new James F. Conahan Intermodal Transportation Center in the downtown overlooking Public Square.PETE G. WILCOX/THE TIMES LEADER
Scott and Frank Henry of Martz Trailways inside the bus terminal of downtown Wilkes-Barre’s new James F. Conahan Intermodal Transportation Center.PETE G. WILCOX/THE TIMES LEADER
WILKES-BARRE – Even before it was completed, the James F. Conahan Intermodal Transportation Center had a big effect on downtown.
Rob Finlay, president of the city’s largest landlord, said the buildings owned by Humford Equities have seen significant increases in occupancy over the last three years, as word got around of additional parking and a bus-free Public Square.
“The anticipation of it being built and now finally opening has really helped our business and the city in general,” Finlay said. “Occupancy is up in our buildings and more than 600 new jobs have come to the downtown in the last three years.”
• The Wilkes-Barre Center at 39 Public Square – a 10-story office building with 116,381 square feet of space – has gone from 45 percent full three years ago to 97 percent today.
• The Bicentennial Building at 15 Public Square – a six-story office building with a floor plan of 10,777 square feet – is filled.
• Midtown Village – consists of three buildings with several storefronts and a courtyard in the middle – will be at full capacity soon.
“The additional parking that the Intermodal brings is the main reason for the increased interest in locating downtown,” Finlay said. Also, “People working in the Labor and Industry building (on South Washington Street) now have easy access to Public Square by using the two walkways. It will be a great asset to the entire downtown and the businesses there. It already has been.”
What Finlay describes is exactly what Mayor Tom Leighton had hoped for – more parking downtown bringing more businesses, more jobs and more people.
“The key is to hold the downtown businesses that are here and keep those jobs and also attract new businesses,’ Leighton said. “Parking is the key to it all; it will help us bring new industry downtown. People want to park close to where they work and at a reasonable rate.”
Leighton said it costs $55 per month to park in the Intermodal. The new six-level facility interlocks with the Park and Lock Central garage, bring the total number of parking spaces to more than 1,100. Office workers, shoppers, diners and movie goers can park under cover and then head out for a day or evening in the city.
With buses and taxis no longer stopping on Public Square, the mayor said 80 new diagonal parking spaces will be installed. Meters will allow a maximum time of one hour, as opposed to other city parking meters that have a four-hour capacity.
“It will be easy access for our downtown merchants,” Leighton said. “Vehicles will be able to go in and out; that will be a big benefit to the businesses.”
The city entered into an agreement with Martz Trailways to be the management company for the Intermodal. In lieu of rent, Martz takes on the responsibility of running the terminal and keeping it clean. Leighton praised Marie McCormick, city administrator, and Butch Frati, director of operations, for seeing the project through to completion. The city will conduct a grand opening of the facility later this month, Leighton said.
“Believe me there were a lot of headaches since we broke ground in 2006,” Leighton said. “Marie and Butch stuck to the plan and overcame all obstacles.”
On Thursday, Leighton stood atop the Intermodal and looked out at Public Square. He observed the crowd at the Farmers’ Market, the new sidewalks and streetlights, new storefronts between South Main and West Market streets. He liked what he saw.
“People can now live in the city, work here, shop here, dine and dance,” Leighton said. “Before I became mayor, people criticized the downtown for the condition it was in; now I get criticized for paying too much attention to the downtown.”
Leighton said he does care about the neighborhoods and he has paid attention to the needs of all city residents.
“But as the downtown goes, so goes the city,” he said.
Martz Trailways has been headquartered in downtown Wilkes-Barre for much of its 102-year history. The Intermodal is the company’s fifth downtown location.
In 1964, Frank Martz Jr. – son of the company’s founder – died in a helicopter accident and Frank M. Henry, grandson of the founder of Martz Lines, took control of the company. Henry’s son, Scott, represents the fourth generation to work at Martz.
“Our commitment has always been to the downtown and to the region,” Scott Henry said. “And the city has been committed to us. Our customers benefit from this cooperation.”
Frank Henry said bringing Martz buses and LCTA buses together in the same location is a big advantage for the traveling public.
“The downtown has certainly gotten brighter in recent years,” Henry said. “I’ve seen so many innovative things down under Mayor Leighton’s leadership. We believe in the city.”
Henry said there’s a lot of room for growth downtown and he has noticed a much more positive attitude in people.
“And more people are moving back into the city,” Henry said. “I definitely feel a positive momentum building.”
Henry said the Intermodal gives passengers a better place to wait for buses. The facility is under cover for the most part. “It’s kind of bittersweet when you watch the old signs come down from our former location and watch them lock the doors,” Henry said. “There’s definitely a lot of sentimentality involved. But we’ve always been a company of traditions and we will make new traditions in our new home.”
As far as the former terminal, Henry said there have been several people interested in looking at the building for possible relocation. He wouldn’t name any of the interested parties, but said he didn’t think it would take long to find a new tenant.
According to the Martz website, Frank Martz Sr. started operations between small mining towns in Pennsylvania in 1908 under the name White Transit Co. and in 1912 started local routes throughout the region until being sold to the Luzerne County Transportation Authority in 1974.
LCTA Executive Director Stanley Strelish said the new center will provide a more vital regional venue that will increase the visibility and accessibility of public transportation in Luzerne County.
“Projects like the Intermodal are key to ensuring the mobility of the region, offering commuters a place to park their vehicles and use public transportation to reach their destination,” Strelish said.
Strelish said LCTA will install by early autumn a Dynamic Bus Departure System in the Intermodal. The system will provide information about the route and destination of the next buses departing; information about operational delays of buses at selected signs; and display LCTA and Martz Trailways system information and emergency messages.
“Our drivers have been trained in the center, our operational staff is ready and we look forward to meeting our riders beginning at 5:10 a.m. Tuesday for the changeover from Public Square to the new hub,” Strelish said. “We know that there may be challenges during the transition period, but with passengers and LCTA employees working together, all issues will be resolved as quickly as possible.”
Several Luzerne County Transportation Authority route changes will take effect Tuesday to coincide with the move to the intermodal transportation center.
The No. 8 bus, Swoyersville going outbound via Forty Fort, will use Pierce Street (Kingston) to Rutter Avenue and Rutter to Pierce on inbound trips, Henderson said. Warren Avenue and Dorrance Street will be eliminated.
All No. 10 buses will use Kidder Street (Wilkes-Barre) outbound and inbound. Scott Street will be serviced by the No. 5 Parsons bus.
The No. 22 Plymouth bus will eliminate the Ross Street/West River Street (Wilkes-Barre) loop. The bus will use South Main to Academy Street outbound and Academy to Franklin to Union to Washington Street inbound.
There will be no service Monday due to the Independence Day holiday.
Passengers with questions may call 570-BUSTIME (570-287-8463).