Developer Robert S. Tamburro said the stretch of Route 315 and Kidder Street from TGI Fridays to the Cross Valley Expressway is like a heart in need of surgery.
Traffic often backs up along the approximately 0.4 mile span, which falls in three municipalities — Wilkes-Barre, Wilkes-Barre Township and Plains Township, he said.
“The cars are the blood, and they’re not flowing. There are multiple blockages and congested arteries that need to be addressed,” Tamburro said. “Anyone who travels that area can tell you it’s a mess.”
County council is set to discuss his proposed solution Tuesday, formation of a committee to study the possibility of a Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) program.
Unlike a tax break, property owners must pay all real estate taxes on new development in this program. But instead of keeping those payments, the three taxing bodies — school, county and municipal — use the money to pay off a loan to fund the infrastructure work.
Tamburro estimates reconfiguration of the stretch would cost approximately $10 million.
His family-owned business, Tamburro R.E. Development and Management LLC, is involved in the pitch because it can’t proceed with an estimated $100 million commercial project at the 62.3-acre former Valley Crest Nursing Home site without Route 315 modifications.
The main Valley Crest access road connects to Route 315.
The state transportation department has informed Tamburro a highway occupancy permit will not be issued for his development unless a significant traffic improvement project is completed to alleviate highway problems, county Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Andrew Reilly told council in a recent letter attached to Tuesday’s meeting agenda.
Tamburro said his company spent $800,000 to date for engineers and consultants to prepare a traffic study and assist with grant applications that have been unsuccessful so far. Problems on 315 and Kidder Street should be addressed regardless of his project, he said.
“The highway improvements would benefit all motorists who travel through that area, including veterans who have to navigate that mess to get to the VA Medical Center.”
The Tamburro company purchased the property from the county for $2.075 million in 2015. Tamburro stressed the diverted tax money would not fund any work at his site. His company must spend an estimated $1.9 million for asbestos removal and demolition of the old nursing home to make way for commercial tenants.
Tamburro primarily expects retail and entertainment tenants but said he can’t lock in agreements until the 315 improvements are addressed.
According to the letter from Reilly, who is also county community development director:
• To proceed, the impacted taxing bodies must appoint representatives to a committee to draft a proposed plan that would then require their approval for implementation. The authority would oversee the process.
• Tamburro is willing to fund a significant share of the off-site highway improvements, including engineering costs, and will also seek a state multimodal grant in 2018 that would reduce reliance on diverted tax revenue.
This would be the first TIF since the county switched to a home rule structure in 2012, and council members have expressed frustration over an inherited 1998 TIF linked to new development along Highland Park Boulevard and at the Arena Hub Plaza in Wilkes-Barre Township.
While this program’s funding of infrastructure improvements on Highland Park and Mundy and Coal streets was deemed a success for attracting new stores, restaurants and hotels, council members have complained about continued delays obtaining the county’s share of approximately $2.88 million left after the TIF loan was repaid.
Tamburro said the new TIF would address a public infrastructure problem, create jobs and generate additional tax revenue that will help taxing bodies once the loan is repaid.
“This is a win-win for everyone,” he said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
He said his family has a track record with local projects, including owning, developing and maintaining the Arena Hub Plaza in Wilkes-Barre Township for 20 years.
“We’re not some Wall Street company, and our family has never received any tax breaks,” he said.