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Slew of Renovation Projects is Changing the Local Hotel Scene
in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania

By Denise Allabaugh, The Citizens' Voice, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Dec. 23, 2012--The landscape of hotels, dining and entertainment venues in Luzerne County is about to change.

Rob Friedman of Dallas is the latest to embark on a major renovation project. He is working on reopening the Beaumont Inn in Dallas Township, which has been closed for six years. He is in the midst of extensive renovations and plans to reopen the inn's 10 hotel rooms as well as the restaurant and bar and add a new patio.

The Woodlands Inn and Resort in Plains Township has recently applied for a $1 million state gaming grant for a $40 million expansion plan, which involves knocking down cottages and adding apartments, office and retail shops, said Mitch Kornfeld, one of the Woodlands' second generation owners.

The Woodlands' expansion is one of many developments underway on Route 315 near Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in Plains Township, a high traffic area where land is now of high value.

Here is a look at the major hotel renovation projects under way in Luzerne County:

Beaumont Inn restoration

Friedman plans to return the Beaumont Inn to its former glory.

Friedman, 57, owner of the River Street Jazz Cafe in Plains Township, purchased the inn on Route 309 about a month ago from former owners Jim and Beth Harkins. He would not say how much he paid for the inn. A deed shows he purchased the property after foreclosure and lists the cash consideration as $1 and the county-assessed value at $413,500.

The inn was built in the 1940s and renovated by the Harkins in 1988, Friedman said.

"I want to bring it back to the beautiful place it was when they opened in 1988," he said.

Friedman, who also is former owner and president and a current consultant for Friedman Electric, led a tour of the closed Beaumont Inn recently and talked about his plans to reopen and remodel the bar and fine dining area and hire an "excellent chef." He wants to bring back Sunday brunches and plans to make several improvements outside, including adding a patio overlooking a stream and bridge.

"This is spectacular out here. This will be landscaped with flowers and trees and all different types of perennials," Friedman said. "This will be totally unique to the area. This is where I'm taking the Beaumont Inn concept, which is beautiful to begin with."

Friedman currently rents out a barn on a 140-acre farm in Dallas Township as a seasonal wedding venue. He started the business, called Friedman Farms, as a hobby and it has been very successful, he said.

Through his wedding business, Friedman often hears there are few places to stay in the Back Mountain area and he thought reopening the Beaumont Inn would help solve that problem. The 10 rooms he is renovating will include a honeymoon area, he said.

"Each room will have a different theme and different beds, carpeting, dressers, desks and bathrooms," Friedman said. "It will be really unique upstairs also."

Friedman also plans to hold small weddings at the Beaumont Inn. Friedman Farms could host weddings for about 200 people, while Beaumont Inn could have weddings for about 100 people as well as rehearsal dinners and parties, he said. He hopes people who get married or attend weddings at Friedman Farms will stay at the Beaumont Inn.

The Beaumont Inn has been closed for about six years, but Misericordia University used it from 2009-2010 for student housing.

Citing his experience operating the River Street Jazz Cafe in Plains Township, Friedman acknowledged it is difficult to make money in the restaurant business. If it wasn't for his successful wedding business, he probably never would have bought the Beaumont Inn, he said.

"The two combine very nicely. It is nine minutes away from my barn," Friedman said. "I'm very excited about this."

Friedman would not say how much he will spend on improvements to the Beaumont Inn, but he said it will be a "substantial amount." He said he is not applying for any type of public funding.

Woodlands plans expansion

After 44 years in business, the Woodlands Inn and Resort in Plains Township continues to look at ways to reinvent itself, said Mitch Kornfeld, one of the Woodlands' second generation owners along with his brothers Rick and Ross Kornfeld.

The latest plan: a $40 million renovation that involves knocking down cottages on the Woodlands' property along Route 315 and adding apartments, office space and retail shops.

Recently, the Woodlands applied for a $1 million state gaming grant to help pay for the project. The grants are awarded by the Commonwealth Financing Authority, an independent state agency that distributes money generated by the state's casinos, including Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, into Luzerne County's Local Share Account. The money in the account is used to fund economic and community development projects throughout the county. The rest of the Woodlands' project will be paid for with private funding and "hopefully" a bank loan, Kornfeld said.

Kornfeld said he believes it is a good time for the development as Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs has drawn more traffic to the area, but at the same time, decreased food and beverage sales at the Woodlands.

The competition from Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs has led to other changes at the Woodlands, including the opening of Shogun Japanese Restaurant. Luzerne Bank also opened a branch in the Woodlands' parking lot recently.

"As the economy is healing, we see the potential in our land value and we want to take advantage of it and that will help offset some of the sales decreases in food and beverage because of Mohegan Sun," Kornfeld said. "We are looking at ways to reinvent ourselves and look for other avenues of revenue. The land value around Mohegan Sun has increased."

Additionally, Kornfeld said, interest rates are at historic lows and returns are better in real estate now for private investors. He said the plans are preliminary, but he expects the expansion will create more than 60 jobs.

Boom of Plains Twp. hotels

Construction continues at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, where a $50 million seven-story hotel and convention center is expected to be complete by the end of 2013.

Another hotel, the Microtel Inn & Suites, is being constructed on a parcel of land on Route 315 called "Richland North." Plains Township-based TFP Limited Development, the real estate company that developed the Arena Hub, sold the land to the hotel operator JDK Management and is marketing land in front of the hotel to prospective tenants, said Robert Tamburro, trustee and general partner with TFP. A traffic light will be installed in that area, he said.

The Wilkes-Barre-based group developing a multi-sports and events complex on 120 acres of unused land behind Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs also has plans for a hotel. The hotel will have at least 120 rooms and a branded chain will operate it, said Karen Line, a partner in Ultimate Sports Group with Brent Berger, chief executive officer of Quad 3 Group and Stuart Bell, president of Luzerne Products. They are talking with a few hotel developers and restaurants, but have not yet chosen the developer, Line said.

There are now 44 hotels in Luzerne County and more than half are located in Wilkes-Barre, Wilkes-Barre Township, Plains Township and Pittston, said Merle Mackin, executive director of Luzerne County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"We certainly welcome all these additions," Mackin said. "I think it further defines that fact that we are becoming a destination or they wouldn't be adding additional rooms. They must have a good feeling about the hospitality industry and amenities in Luzerne County."

Bentley's for sale

Amid the new developments, another large entertainment venue, Bentley's on Route 309 in Ashley, closed and is up for sale. The sale price is $2.99 million, said Linda Gavio, realtor associate with Coldwell Banker of Mountain Top. The property has been on the market for more than 30 days and there has been some interest, she said.

Efforts to reach Bentley's owner Joseph Limongelli were unsuccessful. The entertainment venue closed after Limongelli spent millions of dollars transforming the former Brass Rail Restaurant and Saloon into Bentley's, which included a night club, bar, fine dining, banquet hall and VIP rooms.

dallabaugh@citizensvoice.com, 570-821-2115

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(c)2012 The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)

Visit The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.) at citizensvoice.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services



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