Today, the Luzerne County Convention & Visitors’ Bureau notes its 25th anniversary. It officially opened on January 17, 1997.
These days, the bureau goes by simpler name: Visit Luzerne County. And for those of us that work there, and for the people of Luzerne County, it’s an exciting time, as we are in the midst of moving to a new location inside the historic train station on the newly named “Old Train Station Road” in Wilkes-Barre. Until just a few weeks ago, the road - which runs parallel to Wilkes-Barre Boulevard and in between East Market Street and Northampton Street- did not have a name. But now, thanks to cooperation between the City of Wilkes-Barre and Luzerne County, it does. And Visit Luzerne County, with offices inside that grand old train station, will be right in the center of it.
For an entire generation, the train station is perhaps best remembered as a popular nightclub, restaurant and hotel. But its history dates back to 1868, when it was originally constructed for the Lehigh and Susquehanna Railroad. In 1871, it came under control of the Central Railroad of New Jersey and became well-known for its passenger trains. In 1882, the first parlor cars were run from Wilkes-Barre to Philadelphia and the finest luxurious Pullman cars were also run between Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and New York. Passenger service ceased in 1963 and the station closed in 1972. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s the renovated train station - then called The Station and Market Street Square – was the popular bar that many of us remember it for the most. Many good times were had there. In 2020, it was renovated again to become the new home of Visit Luzerne County. And our new location will include an expanded visitors’ lobby, digital displays of upcoming events, restrooms for guests and plenty of free parking. It opens in February.
Visit Luzerne County provides a wide array of services to not only the people of Northeastern Pennsylvania, but also, most importantly, people visiting Northeastern Pennsylvania. Our new 2022 Visitors’ Guide - which is packed with 40 pages of great photos and lists of fun things to see and do here in Luzerne County- will be published later this month. And though this might surprise some, it does not surprise the Visitors’ Bureau: a 2019 study conducted by Oxford Economics revealed that the economic impact of tourism in Luzerne County reached more than $1 billion dollars and supported more than 7,250 Luzerne County jobs. There are more than 40 hotels in Luzerne County with more than 3,600 rooms. And a big part of our job at Visit Luzerne County is to help keep those hotels busy. And If you’ve ever stopped by our offices, or visited our website or social media pages, you know that we have plenty of information to help do just that. We also a strong presence in other markets, where we aim to help bring more visitors, conferences and sporting events to Luzerne County. And when we do that, we help foster the entire economy of our region, as those guests then shop in our stores, dine at our restaurants and visit our attractions.
From the gorgeous trails and waterfalls at Ricketts Glen State Park to the shiny glitz of Mohegan Sun Pocono, there’s something for everyone here in Luzerne County. The top entertainers in the world continue to grace the stages at the F.M. Kirby Center and Mohegan Sun Arena. We have high-level professional sports with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, and just over the county line, with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. We have rich history at places such as the Wyoming Monument and Eckley Miners’ Village. There’s the beauty of Harveys Lake and the Seven Tubs and rustic charm of The Lands at Hillside Farms. And trust me on this: you haven’t fully experienced the joy of Luzerne County until you’ve kayaked on the Susquehanna from Falls to Wilkes-Barre. There are some parts on the journey when the untouched surroundings most likely look no different than they did to an American Indian in a canoe 300 years ago. And there are some parts, when you paddle past our majestic courthouse, when you feel right at home, and yet you also see things from a completely different perspective.
Pizza? The people of NEPA proudly claim – and rightly so – that we have the best. And you can read all about it in our Visitors’ Guide. And one of our biggest projects in 2022, thanks to a state grant from the LCB, will be developing a new brochure spotlighting all of the fine craft breweries here in Luzerne County.
Visit Luzerne County does all of this promotional work at no cost to the average tax-payer or the county. The bureau is entirely funded through the 1% that it receives of the 5% hotel tax that visitors pay when staying overnight at hotels in the region. And because it is a bureau and not just a visitors center, much of that money is reinvested right back into the community by sponsoring events such as the Keystone State Games, which puts millions of dollars, each year, back into the local economy. The bureau also supports events such as The Fine Arts Fiesta, The Pittston Tomato Festival, the Briggs Farm Blues Festival, Riverfest, Hazleton Funfest, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Airshow and the Luzerne County Fair. And three times a year, the bureau, with much community support, hosts its own events: the popular “Rockin’ The River” shows at the beautiful River Common.
The historic train station stands as a wonderful tribute to our past. We are thrilled to be moving there. And yet, more than anything, we look to the future. We are excited about the prospect of two new hotels being built in downtown Wilkes-Barre. We support the work of progressive minded organizations such as the Wyoming Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Diamond City Partnership, the Greater Pittston Chamber of Commerce, the Greater White Haven Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Hazleton Alliance for Progress. Visit Luzerne County has been proud to have also been a part of such progressive efforts for the past 25 years, and we are excited about tracking ahead in our new location where the old railroad tracks once served our community well. We plan to do the same.
All are welcome to stop in and see us. We are here for you.
(Alan K. Stout is the executive director of Visit Luzerne County. He can be reached at (570) 819-1877 or firstname.lastname@example.org)