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Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2018:02:28 12:09:36

Construction along Main Street in Pittston.Mark Morancv02pittstonmainstreetp4

Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2018:02:28 12:11:44

Vehicles approach Main Street in Pittston. Mark Moran cv02pittstonmainstreetp3

Workers are busy in downtown Pittston preparing storefronts for businesses, installing loft apartments, converting the old Insalaco supermarket building into modern office space and the M&T Bank building into a Luzerne County Community College satellite campus, and preparing for the former Palazzo 53 restaurant to reopen as Rikasa on Main under new ownership.

The storefront at 107 Main St., near Market Street, is being readied for the Fugi restaurant, which will move from its current location on North Main in the former LaFratte’s restaurant. Five high-end loft apartments are going in the upper floors.

At 71 S. Main St., the Arts Seen gallery is being remodeled and rebranded as a similar business. Mayor Mike Lombardo described it as “an art-co-op with a SOHO vibe.”

Mary Kroptavich will be the gallery director. The gallery also will be the home of the recently chartered Arts Council.

Lombardo said he met with the Insalacos two weeks ago and their plan to turn their old supermarket, which was most recently a beer distributorship, into state-of-the-art office space is on schedule.

Lombardo said he was in the Rikasa restaurant last week and was blown way.

“It’s the nicest restaurant in NEPA. You’d have to go to New York or Philly to find something like it.”

Rikasa owner Nancy Medico said a New York feel is what she is going for. “High energy,” as she put it. The name Rikasa is an anagram of Sakari, her Salon and Spa on Rutter Avenue in Forty Fort.

“I wanted an ambiguous name,” she said, because she didn’t want a name that might suggest a specific cuisine. She said while she will serve some Italian dishes, the menu is eclectic and “seasonal specials” will be a signature.

Though she doesn’t have restaurant experience, she said it’s always been a dream to open her own restaurant. She got a great chef to help her in Christopher Barcia, a former owner of Palazzo.

“Pittston is a great town with wonderful people,” Medico said. “Pittston has a great feel and I want to be part of it.” She hopes to open the second week of March. The restaurant’s website also is under construction at rikasa.net.

The former Rooney’s Irish Pub, which had a brief second life as the Neutral Zone, has been home to Leverage Fitness Pittston since July. It’s a boutique gym and wellness and personal training center.

Lombardo said the city no longer has to offer incentives to businesses to move or start up on the Main Street corridor.

“What’s going on is an evolution. Businesses are coming to us now. It’s the free market at work,” he said. What we should be doing, and are doing, is creating an environment that will attract businesses.”

Maybe the most important new project, at least in terms of putting people downtown, is the LCCC satellite campus. Work began in October and is ahead of schedule for a late summer to fall opening. Lombardo said projections are for 300 to 500 students to take classes in Pittston. Staff size is not settled.

As upbeat as Lombardo is about most of Main Street, he’s frustrated with the condition of the building at 152 S. Main St., adjacent to the empty lot next to Rock Street Music. Long since abandoned, the building, which was built as a market in the 1950s, is a crumbling eyesore. Half the building has no roof. The city condemned it, but Lombardo said it has become a “legal nightmare.”

Mark Bufalino is representing the city as special counsel. The owner, Eugene Passarella, sold it for $1 after judgments totaling $80,000 in fines and penalties were levied against him in magistrate and county court, according to Joe Moskovitz, Pittston manager. Further complicating the situation, the $1 buyer, Robert Kerns, is in jail, Moskovitz said.

There’s a temptation for the city to just demolish the building, but Moskovitz advises against that, saying the city should let the matter play out legally.

“It’s frustrating that in the middle of a million dollar streetscape phase we have this,” Lombardo said. “It’s not fair to other property owners.”

The city did acquire another nearby eyesore for demolition — an old multi use building at the corner of East Oak and South Main streets. The city owns from that corner to the old Ristagno’s building. Moskovitz said the area is “the gateway to the city and we want to see it cleaned up.”

jsmiles@pittstonprogress.com