W-B Public Square could see facelift
Site underwent last makeover more than 4 decades ago
STAFF WRITER 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-forprofit 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.
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 revisit 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.
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. One 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.” Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-821-2051; @CVBillW on Twitter
Plans for an upgrade of Wilkes-Barre’s Public Square are in the works, including whether to repair its defunct fountain.