After a whirlwind walking tour of downtown Hazleton revitalization projects Monday, a state official said he was impressed.
“This really did exceed my expectations,” said Richard P. Vilello Jr., community affairs and development deputy secretary at the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development. “Keep up the good work.”
The group visited eight sites in a two-block stretch of West Broad Street, starting at The Pines Restaurant in a building that businessman George Hayden said once faced the wrecking ball.
The tallest building in the city’s downtown, the 11-story structure is now known at the Hayden Tower at the Markle — the last word a nod to its original construction as the Markle Banking & Trust Company Building.
With a combination of private and public funds, the building has been refurbished and boasts an occupancy of more than 90 percent, said Hayden, who owns the property along with members of the DeAngelo family under the umbrella of Downtown Hazleton Development LLC, or DHD.
Next on the tour was the nearby former Traders Bank building, a seven-story Gothic Revival structure with a two-story annex in the rear, both also owned by DHD, according to Hayden.
Lackawanna College has moved into approximately 15,000 square feet in the annex and main building, Hayden said. His company is working with clients to “fill up the rest of the building” now that exterior restoration and other renovations have been completed, he said.
Crossing Broad Street, the group stopped at a 1930s building that once housed restaurants, the Darling Shop and later a bingo hall in the 1990s. It is set to become Penn State Hazleton’s LaunchBox innovation center to foster new businesses.
DHD donated the former bingo building to the nonprofit Downtown Hazleton Alliance for Progress, which is spearheading efforts to create a downtown arts and innovation district to spark further economic development.
After admiring exposed brick and windows once hidden behind siding on the facade of the new Dragon Chinese Restaurant, the group stepped inside an adjacent former antique shop being converted to an Irish style pub and restaurant called Broad and Barrel. The establishment includes doors that will lead to an outdoor patio deck area in an adjacent lot.
On the opposite side of the lot is a former bank building that will house the new City Arts Center to be operated and managed by the Hazleton Art League. Upgrades are underway, and half of the $2.4 million renovation target has been raised, officials said.
The group proceeded to a city-owned corner lot that will become a park and plaza for the arts center, with landscaping and murals attached to the center building, said downtown alliance Executive Director Krista Schneider.
Owned by DHD, the eight-story, former Hazleton National Bank building was the final stop. It was built in 1924.
Renovation has wrapped up on several floors, and the building is about half occupied, Hayden said. The company is speaking to banks, restaurants and other prospective tenants for the majestic first-floor bank lobby, he said.
This building and the former Traders Bank structure have Keystone Opportunity Zone, or KOZ, tax exemption through 2022. To improve parking, DHD also bought a medical building with a 100-spot lot behind the former Hazleton National Bank building, Hayden said.
Tour participant state Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, said he believes Hazleton’s downtown is taking off due to several factors: private investment; nonprofits that work together on a focused plan; and government officials at all levels who are committed to identifying funding and other support to help carry it out.
“Everybody is on the same page. I think that’s a big reason that Hazleton has been so successful,” Yudichak said.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.