Guard Reaches Deal With W-B Over Parking

December 15, 2018

WILKES-BARRE — After months of negotiations, officials with Berkshire Hathaway GUARD Insurance Companies and the City of Wilkes-Barre have reached an agreement over discounted parking at the downtown intermodal garage.

The city will allow GUARD to rent as many of the 752 parking spaces in the James F. Conahan Intermodal Transportation Facility as the company needs at $45 per space for up to two years.

Plus, Guard will get a 10 percent discount off that rate, paying for only nine out of every 10 spaces, which effectively works out to $40.50 per space monthly. The regular price for monthly permit parking at the James F. Conahan Intermodal Center is $70 per space, which means Guard will be getting a 42 percent discount for two years.

Every 10th space is to be used for guests and executives of the company, according to the yet-unsigned agreement. City council is poised to vote on the agreement on Thursday at a regular 6 p.m. meeting.

Discounted, guaranteed parking was one of the carrots offered to GUARD to keep its world headquarters in Wilkes-Barre as the multinational corporation undergoes an expansion.

GUARD, which was founded by Kingston residents Judd and Susan Shoval in 1983 and headquartered in the former Lehigh and Wilkes-Barre Coal Co. building on the southeast corner of Market and River streets ever since, was acquired by a unit of billionaire Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway in October 2012.

Local and state officials joined GUARD representatives in November 2017 to announce that GUARD had purchased the Wilkes-Barre Center property for its new headquarters to accommodate the company’s growth. The insurance group’s annual sales mushroomed from $200 million at the start of 2007 to about $1.2 billion currently and GUARD had run out of space in its five downtown offices.

GUARD paid Wilkes-Barre Square Associates $5.07 million for the 90,378-square-foot office building and adjoining, street-level storefronts including Franklin’s, Rodano’s, Dunkin’ Donuts and Dollar Tree.

State Sen. John Yudichak had noted that GUARD was considering locations for an expanded headquarters “all over the Eastern United States.”

Sy Foguel, GUARD chief executive officer, had said $885,000 in job creation tax credits offered by the state and a $1 million local share assessment grant secured by the City of Wilkes-Barre to help with renovations and relocation was key in offsetting the increased costs of locating a major corporate facility in a downtown district as well as being competitive with incentives from other areas.

City Administrator Rick Gazenski said he doesn’t expect GUARD will start off renting all 752 spaces as company employees continue to transition into the headquarters. But the city will receive an initial up-front payment for two years of parking rentals based on the number of spaces the company will need as of Jan. 1.

GUARD’s staff has more than doubled since the Buffet acquisition, increasing from about 300 to more than 675 last year, and more than 80 percent of those jobs are in Wilkes-Barre, according to Carl Witkowski, GUARD’s chief operating officer.

Between the time the company first applied to the state in August 2016 for job creation tax credits and last November, 114 new positions were added to the 441 existing positions in the city. Plans called for 171 hires by Aug. 31, 2019, which would bring GUARD’s employment base in the city to 726.

If GUARD does eventually rent all of the spaces in the intermodal garage, there will still be plenty of space for transient parking in the Park & Lock Central garage, which is connected to the intermodal center and has close to 400 spaces, according to city parking authority executive director Tom Torbik.

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570-821-2110, @MocarskyCV

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