The bond between man and college can be an impermeable demarcation that courses like blood through the veins of time. It is this deep connection that is often the impetus behind remarkable projects that find their way into the public eye.
When the $20 million redevelopment project that produced King’s North Main Gateway complex was first announced, heads turned. What was the driving force that brought about the demolition of two abandoned industrial buildings and the former Rodano’s Restaurant (relocated to Public Square) in 2008? Who were we to thank for helping to rid the city of its blighted eyesore properties?
A few well-placed emails and minimal research yielded the answer to the $20 million question – Kinship Square, a nonprofit organization comprised of successful King’s alumni and friends who rallied for the good of the school as well as that of the city of Wilkes-Barre.
Appropriately named, the overall mission of Kinship Square goes a long way to help rid the city of its vacant buildings – at least those within a six-block radius of the King’s campus, “north of Union, south of Main, south of North, and west of Pennsylvania.”
According to Chairman David Selingo, a discussion in 2006 with fellow alumnus Jeff Mattes and then King’s President Father Thomas O’Hara was the impetus for the organization’s founding in October of that year.
“We discussed the degradation of the neighborhood, with particular interest in the Mary MacIntosh and Corcoran buildings that had been vacant since 1995,” Selingo explained. “We met with other alumni to talk about development around the school.”
Fellow alumni and King’s board members who came to the table to discuss which buildings might be considered for redevelopment were Chuck Parente, John Randolph, and Gertrude McGowan. Joe Kluger, a King’s Board member, brought his legal skills to the discussion. Other important properties considered were a vacant warehouse building on Bennett St. and another on Pennsylvania Avenue.
“We attempted to generate interest in the buildings with the intent to find occupants,” Selingo said. “We were fortunate that Dr. Susan Sordoni opened the Volunteers in Medicine clinic in the Pennsylvania Avenue building; and Kinship assigned its right to purchase the Bennett Street warehouse building to King’s.”
The original intent was to refurbish the Mary MacIntosh and Corcoran buildings, so Kinship Square conducted an engineering study and received a bid of $1.4 million to merely stabilize the structures, prior to renovation. It was then that they decided to start from scratch.
They next spoke to Wilkes-Barre Architect Kyle Kinsman, who submitted a drawing that included residences on the upper floors and retail on the lower level. Then Wilkes-Barre Chamber President Todd Vonderheid introduced the group to David Yeager of Radnor Property Group, based in Wayne, Pa., who saw potential in the project. King’s was in dire need of residences as more than 100 students were living in downtown hotels. Yeager agreed to partner with Kinship Square, if they owned and razed the vacant structures. Inevitably, Cityvest, which had owned the buildings since 2006, agreed to sell them to Kinship Square for $1, and a grant from the PA Department of Community and Economic Development paid for the demolition.
The original Gateway project was intended to stop at the Mary MacIntosh building and proceed around the corner to four blighted houses. An agreement wasn’t possible to gain title to the houses, so Kinship instead looked at Rodano’s, reaching an agreement with owner Frank Rodano that resulted in the restaurant’s relocation to Public Square.
The buildings were razed by the Fall of 2008, and once the lot was cleared, an agreement was struck with Radnor Property Group to establish a long-term lease, which then yielded the $19.5 million needed for the project.
Notably, the Mary MacIntosh building was a KOZ property, which owed significant back taxes. Local lawyer Frank Hoegen, who had accepted a position on Kinship’s Board, petitioned the local taxing entities to forgive back taxes totaling more than $300,000 and Yeager agreed to make voluntary payments of more than $100,000 per year. The KOZ designation will soon expire and the buildings will be generating more than $100,000 in combined yearly tax payments to the school district, county, and city.
The three-story Gateway building, located on the corner of North Street and North Main, opened in August 2009, with modern student apartments on the top two levels that include four bedrooms, bath, and shared living room and kitchen residences for King’s students; King’s Early Education Program and Hildebrandt Learning Center on the first floor; and a restaurant, Leo’s on Mane.
Kinship Square’s active Board of Directors members are Joseph Kluger, Esquire– Hourigan, Kluger & Quinn, PC; Jeff Mattes, President– MRops, an internet-based market research firm; Frank Hoegen, Esquire– Hoegen & Associates; Stuart Bell, President –Luzerne Products; Brent Berger, President – Quad 3 Group; David J. Selingo, Esquire– Selingo Guagliardo, LLC; and Chuck Parente, CEO– Pagnotti Enterprises. The nonprofit 501c3 organization works purely on a volunteer basis, with all monies applied to projects.
“The Gateway project could never have been completed without the involvement of a nonprofit as the challenges were too great,” Selingo noted. “But, with the vast business experience and legal skills at our disposal, these challenges were overcome. It is a real honor to work with such an active and high-achieving board.”