Wilkes-Barre’s Pub­lic Square could soon see a facelift


WILKES-BARRE — More than four decades af­ter the re­design of Pub­lic Square, the same ar­chi­tec­ture firm that de­signed it is go­ing back to the draw­ing board.

The square is ripe for an up­grade, said Larry New­man, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Di­a­mond City Part­ner­ship, a not-for-profit down­town man­age­ment or­ga­ni­za­tion that focuses on re­vi­tal­iza­tion.

And bit by bit, the city and Di­a­mond City Part­ner­ship hope to give it one.

Ex­actly how and when that work will hap­pen is still un­cer­tain, al­though the city has earned a $200,000 grant for work and re­cently signed an agree­ment with Bohlin Cy­win­ski Jack­son for de­sign work.

“We’re still plan­ning be­cause it’s go­ing to be based upon what we can do,” said City Ad­min­is­tra­tor Ted Wam­pole.

Ni­cholas Sny­der, an ar­chi­tect with Bohlin Cy­win­ski Jack­son and a mem­ber of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Cham­ber of Com­merce, is one of the peo­ple who’s been dis­cussing how to im­prove the site. The firm, then called Bohlin and Pow­ell Ar­chi­tects, re­designed the square in the ’70s af­ter the city was flooded from Hur­ri­cane Agnes. Sny­der, 39, was born just as the down­town im­prove­ments the firm de­signed were near­ing com­ple­tion.

At that time, founder Peter Bohlin was a young pro­fes­sional not far into his ca­reer. Now, he’s known as an ar­chi­tect who has won the Amer­i­can In­sti­tute of Ar­chi­tects’ high­est award and who de­signed the Ap­ple Store in New York City and Bill Gates’ home near Seat­tle.

“Peter has a clear mem­ory of how won­der­ful it was to be in down­town Wilkes-Barre af­ter the com­ple­tion of the Pub­lic Square and how down­town de­clined in the 90s, so de­spite his deep con­nec­tion to the orig­i­nal de­sign he worked on early in his ca­reer, he is ex­cited to see down­town be­gin­ning to grow again and to be able to re-visit the de­sign 40 years later and help refresh it,” Sny­der wrote in an email.

So far, the lat­est work has been mostly sketch­ing, think­ing about the square and talk­ing to peo­ple who use it. The goal is to give the city some­thing to use as it seeks more fund­ing. Peo­ple want to see some­thing tan­gi­ble, not just an open-ended plan, Sny­der said.

Dis­cus­sions so far have in­volved plan­ning for the fu­ture and could ad­dress sim­pler is­sues, such as the de­sign of the walk­way around the perime­ter. Al­ter­ations might in­volve man­ag­ing the space dif­fer­ently, and see­ing if the city can cre­ate any more events for the square, he said.

It won’t in­volve ma­jor changes or re­pairs now. Those might come later, af­ter the city and Di­a­mond City Part­ner­ship de­velop a plan for what should be fixed or al­tered and try to se­cure fund­ing.

Sny­der has been talk­ing to farmer’s mar­ket ven­dors, Fine Arts Fi­esta or­ga­niz­ers and busi­nesses around the square to re­search how the space works for them.

For ex­am­ple, Sny­der said, the farm­ers who sell at the weekly mar­ket had a re­quest — don’t change the planters that sur­round the park.

The planters were orig­i­nally de­signed as stalls that a truck could fit in­side, giv­ing farm­ers their own space for their goods, and they’re still used that way to­day. They’re also use­ful for the Fine Arts Fi­esta. The large planters help mark off what space be­longs to what ven­dor in a way that an open field could not.

“We don’t want to need­lessly change some­thing and spend money that doesn’t need to be spent,” Sny­der said.

He wants to speak to more peo­ple, in­clud­ing the or­ga­niz­ers of a monthly car show, Wilkes Univer­sity, King’s Col­lege and the pub­lic.

The square is a nice space now, New­man said, but it’s decades old. The goal now is to make it a bet­ter park.

“By ev­ery mea­sure, it is the heart of the city and the val­ley. And it should be a point of pride for the com­mu­nity.

And if we ap­proach this the right way, over time, I am con­fi­dent that it will be a true point of pride for the com­mu­nity, and a space where peo­ple want to go and take visi­tors from out of town,” he said.

Fund­ing and fea­tures

Wilkes-Barre re­ceived a $200,000 grant for land­scap­ing at the park from the state’s 2016 Lo­cal Share Ac­count pro­gram, which re­ceives gam­ing money gen­er­ated by casi­nos, in­clud­ing Mo­he­gan Sun Po­cono.

The fu­ture be­yond that de­pends on fund­ing.

“You could spend a lot of money. And so know­ing that, if we know that we have to spend that kind of money, let’s make sure that we’re get­ting the big­gest bang for our buck, as we’re out there try­ing to fig­ure out where the money’s com­ing from,” New­man said. “Let me put it this way: If the foun­tain were easy to fix and cheap to fix, it would have been done years ago.”

The foun­tain is the fea­ture he hears about most of­ten. It’s also one of the hard­est el­e­ments to fix, be­cause of un­der­ground plumb­ing needed to sup­ply wa­ter. And it could prove costly to main­tain if it were to be re­turned to the open foun­tain that chil­dren splashed around in. That would mean it would need to meet the same wa­ter test­ing stan­dards as a pub­lic pool.

Other fea­tures are eas­ier to im­prove.

On a re­cent week­day, Sny­der stood in the cen­ter of the park, in view of some fea­tures or­ga­niz­ers like and oth­ers they hope to change.

On one side of the square was a tri­an­gle of grass, bright green in the sun, and wel­com­ing to a woman who sat and read in the park. Across the path was an­other sec­tion of grass, un­used and patchy with dirt — the kind of thing or­ga­niz­ers want to avoid.

The bare dirt shows Sny­der that pedes­tri­ans might need more room dur­ing crowded events, or that the city should find an­other spot where food trucks can park when they visit on Thurs­days for the farmer’s mar­ket.

One sug­ges­tion is to block off part of the street sur­round­ing the square for the trucks, sim­i­lar to the way the street is ded­i­cated to them for the Fine Arts Fi­esta. But that could take busi­ness from brick-and-mor­tar restau­rants who oc­cupy space — and pay taxes — all year long.

An­other sim­ple change would be to re­visit the color­ful ban­ners that hung on the scaf­fold­ing that rises up in the mid­dle of the park. The city cur­rently uses that as ad­ver­tis­ing space for up­com­ing events. Af­ter the re­design, it held ban­ners with large color­ful de­signs. Bring­ing back some of those could be in­ex­pen­sive.

“I think in many ways, the de­sign of Pub­lic Square in the 70s was ahead of its time in that it an­tic­i­pated a time when re­ally a lot of peo­ple were not think­ing about many of the fea­tures that de­sign­ers try to in­cor­po­rate into suc­cess­ful ur­ban pub­lic spa­ces to­day,” New­man said. “And so a lot of those fea­tures are things we re­ally want to try to re­tain and en­hance as we go about re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing Pub­lic Square dur­ing the next sev­eral years.”

‘... If we ap­proach this the right way, over time, I am con­fi­dent that (Pub­lic Square) will be a true point of pride for the com­mu­nity, and a space where peo­ple want to go and take visi­tors from out of town.’ LARRY NEW­MAN Di­a­mond City Part­ner­ship


Above: Ni­cholas Sny­der and Peter Bohlin dis­cuss the Pub­lic Square project at the head­quar­ters of Bohlin Cy­win­ski Jack­son in Wilkes-Barre. Top: The foun­tain on Pub­lic Square could be costly to fix and prop­erly main­tain.


The space be­tween the planters on Pub­lic Square were orig­i­nally de­signed as stalls for trucks to park in when farm­ers set up for weekly mar­kets, and they are used that way to­day. still

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