A truly gung-ho Wilkes-Barrean: Guy's bought several DT properties,,,some for a buck....is prepared to create a 'niche' museum in one of them......
Posted on Wed, Nov. 15, 2006
A break for W-B culture?
Stockbroker, with artifacts for possible site, eyes tax aid. Activist: City needs guarantees before deal.
By KEVIN AMERMAN firstname.lastname@example.org
WILKES-BARRE – Patrick Gildea’s clients are treated to a museum of ancient artwork, weapons of past wars, and historic local antiques every time they visit the stockbroker’s North Main Street office.
Gildea wants more people to appreciate his unique collection, which sits in a lounge next to his office.
He envisions the creation of a privately owned, downtown cultural center that would provide a setting for the artifacts and a place where poets may perform and chess and bridge players can compete.
The proposed cultural center at 71-75 S. Main St., is just one of several ideas Gildea has for properties in the city.
He’s asking local government to help make the ideas become reality by granting tax forgiveness, or at least some form of a tax break, on the site of the proposed cultural center and on other properties recently purchased by Gildea.
He said his properties on South Main Street, North Street, and North Washington Street had back taxes totaling about $147,000 when he bought them at a bankruptcy sale. He wants to renovate all of the properties, and plans to donate one to the community for a child-care center.
At one of the properties he bought -- a vacant building on North Washington Street near Coughlin High School -- Gildea said he found the remnants of what he believes is a drug house. Police did not comment Friday on his allegations.
Among the treasures in his office that he’d like to share with the public are African warrior swords, American Indian “skull crushers,” German World War II knives, a sword from the 1600s, slave shackles and a combination tomahawk/pipe.
Gildea also has a 300-year-old ceremonial Chinese rifle that features a design of a wolf’s head with real wolf’s teeth. He has what he believes is an original copy of the Gettysburg Address and letters written by Civil War generals. He claims the Jamaican Rum bottle he has was recovered from Adolf Hitler’s basement by American troops.
“People come in here and see value. I just see history,” said Gildea, a 53-year-old Wilkes-Barre native who lives in Bear Creek Township. “I really believe our country needs to remember where we came from or we’re going to go back.”
Without a tax break, Gildea said it would be difficult to establish the cultural center.
“I’m at the go or no point,” said Gildea, who noted he has already completed $200,000 worth of renovations in the South Main Street buildings.
Gildea is seeking tax relief from the Wilkes-Barre Area School District and city council.
At least one opponent has emerged.
“What’s to stop the guy from getting tax forgiveness and leaving the property to sit there?” asked city activist Walter Griffith.
If the city grants Gildea’s request, it could “set a precedent that anyone can get tax relief,” possibly opening the city to a lawsuit if someone else is denied, Griffith said. The city should set conditions, such as a deadline, for the completion of the project before deciding to grant any type of tax relief, he said.
“I think it’s good to encourage businesses to come there, but there should be some kind of contract,” Griffith said.
Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton said the city is reviewing the request and would need a “solid development plan” and assurance that funding to complete the project is in place before considering a tax break.
“The city is very careful who we forgive taxes for,” Leighton said.
Besides displaying artifacts at the proposed cultural center, Gildea said he’d like to have yoga there and acupuncture therapy. He said there would most likely be membership fees to join. He also wants a large painting on the side of the building showing what the city looked like in the 1800s.
Gildea bought the properties on South Main Street in bankruptcy court for $1 a piece, but had to pay about $8,800 in purchasing taxes for the properties, according to their fair-market values, county records show. Gildea also bought the North Washington Street properties for $1, according to county records.
Tenants occupy most of the 35 properties Gildea owns in the city, he said, noting that the city will benefit from any dilapidated buildings that he restores.
His office at 730 N. Main St., was built in 1913 and used as a bar and boarding house until the 1950s. It was in ruins before he renovated it.
The original bar in the building, which stretches across the room that Gildea has turned into a mini museum, has been restored. Antique bar items, like the original cash register, sit on top of it, along with modern devices such as a large-screen television and stereo system. Around the bar, Gildea displays antiques from Planters Peanut, the former Reichard and Weaver Brewery in Wilkes-Barre; a former city whiskey company and Stegmaier Brewery.
“My form of creativity is restoring buildings,” Gildea said. “It feels good to take a building that was dead and now you’re sitting in it.”
Kevin Amerman, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 829-7218.