Students’ partaking in city activities helps economy

Amanda Leonard, Correspondent

Local businesses partake every year in an event that helps boost their income.  Party in the Square is an event that takes place every year in Public Square to ensure that local business are getting the attention they deserve. Party in the Square will not be taking place this year, but will return again next year.

Wilkes-Barre’s revitalization has been successful thus far partly due to the rapid growth and expansion of two local colleges, Wilkes University and King’s College. Both schools have attracted local businesses, restaurants and bars; some of these businesses cater specifically to college students, while others offer special discounts with a valid college ID.

On average, Wilkes has an annual undergraduate enrollment of 2,200 students and King’s has an annual undergraduate enrollment of 2,700 students. Around 5,000 students look for places to eat in between classes and for activities to do on the weekend.

In 2011, Wilkes was ranked as one of the fastest growing universities, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Total enrollment of undergraduate and graduate students grew from 4,634 in the fall of 2004 to 6,239 in the fall of 2009.

In September, the Downtown Party on the Square, sponsored by the city of Wilkes-Barre and the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry, brings local vendors and businesses to showcase what they offer to college students. Students are also given a discount card, valid for the entire school year that can be used at the businesses that were in attendance at the event.

Wilkes-Barre mayor, Tom Leighton, described the annual Party on the Square as “no better way for businesses to showcase themselves to the college community in one place, at one time”

However, Party in the Square will be taking the year to talk to some students and businesses to ensure that it is the best it can be.  Although the event is not taking place, there will still be student discount cards being handed out in the fall.

Diamond City Partnership, a public-private alliance for downtown revitalization, helps form the community’s vision for Downtown Wilkes-Barre. Founded in 2001, it began when almost 1,000 citizens met during a series of public sessions to devise strategies for a new, restored downtown. The partnership serves as a downtown management organization with a work plan intended to improve the economic longevity and downtown’s business district.

Larry Newman, Wilkes-Barre city vice president of planning, policy and development, said the Diamond City Partnership made it clear that Greater Wilkes-Barre’s institutions of higher education had to be an integral part of downtown revitalization.

“Downtown in particular becomes a very different place when the two schools are in session,” he said. “We’ve worked hard to build upon the economic impact of the city’s student population since Wilkes-Barre’s colleges are among the strongest assets we can muster in the battle of a competitive region.”

In 2004, DCP and Wilkes and Kings jointly created the Downtown/Collegetown Initiative to create a downtown that benefits from the presence of over 11,000 full-time enrolled students in the Greater Wilkes-Barre are, including 6,500 students at three center-city campuses.

The purchasing and media habits of the college community were not well understood so the Initiative’s first task was to rectify what was happening. A business class at Penn State Wilkes-Barre worked with a five-college steering committee to create a focus group. As a result of the focus group, market information became available to present to businesses, retailers and nightspots.

The local nightlife has seen a revamping in attendance, as well as an increase in revenue. Among the most popular bars are Senunas’ Bar and Grill, Gonda’s Elbow Room, Rodano’s, Mulligans and Hardware Bar.

Angelo DelSordo, general manager of Mulligan’s, has always been attracted to the area and wanted to be a part of the downtown revitalization.

“The downtown area of Wilkes-Barre is cleaning up nicely and there is a huge potential for bars locally, between all the businesses in the area along with colleges,” he said. “Mulligan’s is doing extremely well thanks to the local colleges.”

The Downtown/Collegetown Initiative also resulted in a number of recommendations to improve the climate for college students.

Surveys have shown that 69 percent of the college students are using the student discount cards regularly and 27 percent of those surveyed use the cards at least once per week.

Another direct result of the Downtown/Collegetown Initiative were capital projects by the two schools, such as the creation of the Barnes & Noble Wilkes/King’s Bookstore, which opened on downtown’s primary retail block in 2006.

“We have seen tremendous growth in student patronage of downtown businesses,” Newman said. “Some of the new businesses in the downtown area set out primarily to serve the student market and others see college students one of several specific groups of potential customers.

Newman noted that Crimson Lion is an example of a new business aiming to serve the student market. Establishments like Frank’s Pizza, Bart & Urby’s, Thai Thai, Barnes & Noble and Outrageous include college students as one of several different customer bases.

The DCP surveyed college students asking them how frequently they come to downtown Wilkes-Barre businesses for shopping, dining, movies or entertainment. Newman said that 48 percent reported that they patronize downtown businesses at least once or twice each week; 16 percent came downtown even more frequently.

The most popular downtown destinations for college students, according to a DCP survey, are R/C Movies 14, Barnes & Noble and downtown restaurants.