King’s College contributes to the economic and cultural life of downtown Wilkes-Barre

These stories should not be about us.

Over the past few months, we’ve used our weekly Diamond City Partnership/Downtown Rebound page to talk to business and institutional leaders in downtown Wilkes-Barre about why they chose downtown as their place of operation, why they stayed and how they rebounded from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the local economy.

It is their words, their experiences that count, not our opinions. We have used these pages to provide a forum for those with stories of survival and resilience to tell. We hope these stories have been instructive for all and useful for the downtown business community, whose success is vital to the entire region. But again, our goal is to tell these stories in the most unbiased way possible: let people speak for themselves.

With this week’s article, our views — and our story — are going to slip into the picture a bit, but there’s a good reason.

In the accompanying column, King’s College President Reverend Thomas P. Looney talks about his dedication to the institution’s mission, as well as King’s commitment to downtown Wilkes-Barre . It is a commitment that our organization shares, being another downtown institution with more than a century of history.

King’s history and ours overlap in many ways, as we were recently reminded during a tour of the former Times Leader building on North Main Street.

King’s College bought the historic building for $725,000 in 2018 after the Times frontman moved a few blocks to 90 E. Market St., and plans to prepare the building to house a doctoral program in occupational therapy – the King’s first doctoral program – in time for the fall 2024 semester.

At the request of Times Leader history columnist – and former King – Tom Mooney, we were led through the building by Father Looney and Tom Butchko, associate vice president of King’s facilities. The goal was to see it once more before it was well and truly drained.

At first, Father Looney stopped by to comment on the project and the building’s transformation from journalism to science education – or timelines to dissection, as I joked to a few colleagues.

“The project we are embarking on here in the former Times Leader building is so important to us, and so important to our future and to how we embrace the wider community,” he said. .

“This building is such a part of the history of the town of Wilkes-Barre,” Father Looney said, adding for current and former members of the Times Leader that it holds memories “of the sacred work you do.”

Some of us laughed – respectfully – bearing in mind how daily life in a newspaper often seems far more secular than sacred, but Father Looney’s thoughtful and gracious remarks hit home.

And as he mentioned, this wasn’t the first time King’s had repurposed a hallowed space.

When King renovated the former Memorial Presbyterian Church for use as the new Christ the King Chapel, Fr Looney said, members of the Presbyterian congregation were invited to tour the rededicated space, where many warm memories were left. sprung.

Likewise when we visited our old headquarters.

This visit was poignant, too, because there were several King graduates in the group. Colleague Mary Therese Biebel, who is one of them, pointed out that there are currently several King alumni on our staff, and that there have been many over the years. We don’t name them here so as not to inadvertently forget someone!

It’s just another reminder of King’s physical and symbolic imprint – as the dominant institution in downtown Wilkes-Barre, and through its graduate ranks in Luzerne County and beyond.

Father Looney’s chronicle reminds us of some of the college’s major redevelopments in recent years. I would like to summarize them and others here:

• Richard Abbas Alley Center for Health Sciences: Formerly known as “King’s on the Square”, the Alley Center occupies the former Ramada Hotel in the Public Square. King’s purchased the old hotel and spent $17 million on comprehensive renovations that created student residence space on the upper floors with classrooms and other educational spaces on the lower floors. The building houses the Physician Assistant Studies, Exercise Science, and Athletic Training programs.

As part of its ongoing reassessment of campus business and investment, King’s originally had a bistro called Zime in part of the first floor, but changed food service contractors and successfully brought in the first Chick-fil -A of Wyoming Valley.

King’s also converted part of the hall to house a permanent exhibition of local artist Sue Hand’s work, ‘The Anthracite Miners and Their Hollowed Ground’, and carved out enough space next to the building to create a wall. miner’s memorial dash.

• Mulligan Engineering Center: Built in 1907, the former Spring Brook Water Supply Co. on Franklin Street has long been a dormant shell. In 2019, King’s rededicated it as the home of the college’s expanding civil and mechanical engineering programs. During the dedication, Fred Pettit, vice president of institutional advancement, called it “one of the most important university buildings in our history and one of the most important for our future”, while the State Sen. John Yudichak called the $6 million project a “game changer.”

• Chapel of Christ the King: That same year, King’s opened the former Presbyterian Church as its own chapel with a dedication ceremony and mass. Located next to the George and Giovita Maffei Family Commons, the old church had been closed for about a decade before it was renovated and reopened.

• New library: Last year King’s opened its own stand-alone bookstore on North Main Street in the former S&W restaurant across from the gym.

During his comments towards the end of the ceremony, Looney referred to the building as the school’s “heritage” as many students and staff had met and dined at the restaurant for years.

Kind words for this project and others flowed during the ceremony.

Wilkes-Barre Mayor George Brown, a former King’s, praised the work King’s has done to help update and renovate the town center, saving old buildings and reusing them.

State Representative Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, said King’s and Wilkes University have created many new programs in renovated or new buildings “to the point of improving Wilkes-Barre’s outward image.”

Absolutely.

I am neither Native nor a King graduate, although I attended Niagara University, another affiliated Catholic college in another state. King’s mission and overall vibe are familiar to me, with one key difference: Niagara was a suburban campus, while King’s is in the heart of Wilkes-Barre. It would have changed the whole character of my college years, that’s for sure.

As we all work to keep downtown Wilkes-Barre a vibrant place and bounce back from the pandemic, King’s ongoing efforts are important steps in driving foot traffic for downtown and promoting the image of a progressive and hard-working community with top-notch services. higher education institutions, of which King’s is just one example.

Its dedication to the adaptive reuse of historic structures – as does Crosstown’s rival university, Wilkes – reinforces the character of this beautiful city.

We look forward to seeing our old building when it is finally ready for its new role.

***

Roger DuPuis is editor of the Times Leader.

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