Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Airport's Restaurant, Bar to Cost $1.2 Million

PITTSTON TWP. - Taxpayers from Luzerne and Lackawanna counties will pay a total of $1.2 million to build the new restaurant and bar in the terminal building under construction at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport.

Commissioners from both counties that own the airport said Thursday they have the money for the project, which has not been publicly discussed. They have conducted closed-door negotiations about leasing the space to the longtime operator of the existing restaurant, Leo Vergnetti.

In a letter sent to the counties late last month airport director Barry Centini requested $600,000 from each, saying the money must be provided by February 2006. His request was on top of $450,000 made in September needed for the completion of the terminal and apron area.

"The cost of the construction is estimated at $1.2 (million), which the Commissioners have agreed to fund," he wrote.

Centini was out of town Thursday and could not be reached for comment.

Most of the $55 million to build the terminal and aircraft parking area is coming from state and federal sources, with the counties and the airport contributing less than 10 percent. It is expected to be open early next year.

Michael Conner, assistant airport director, said the timing of the funding request was due to the delay on deciding how it would be paid for.

"It was an unplanned cost by the mere fact that no decision was made on how the restaurant would be done," Conner said.

The space will be built to airport specifications and likely leased to Vergnetti, said Todd Vonderheid, Luzerne County commissioner and airport board chairman.

"This is where we have most control," he said. The airport will recoup its investment through the lease. In addition, the airport will not have to borrow money to pay for the project. "The airport won't have to service that debt to us."

Rather than entering into a long-term lease with someone from the outside who comes in and fills the space, the board opted to give Vergnetti the opportunity to submit a proposal, Vonderheid said.

"He's been there during the darkest time of the airport," said Vonderheid. Vergnetti "provided a competitive number."

Terms of the lease have yet to be finalized, added Vonderheid.

Lackawanna County Commissioner Robert Cordaro, airport board vice chairman, said the county has the money for the project. "It's old news. We knew it was going to be a separately calculated cost."

Under the plan expected to be approved by the board, the airport will be paid a flat lease and receive a percentage of the gross sales.

Luzerne County will pay its share of the restaurant with "residual dollars" from a bond the county took out to pay for the Susquehanna riverfront project, said Commissioner Steve Urban.

However, the request came as a surprise to him, he said. "We don't have a choice. It's something that's needed to scomplete the airport project."

He warned of the possibility of other added costs to the counties such as the construction of a retention pond to prevent flooding in Avoca and the possible construction of a new airport tower.

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