Hotel razing months off at minimum
Thursday, January 5th 2012
County Council must OK demolition. W-B, county, CityVest must OK cooperation deal. Fed probe results may be awaited.
The Hotel Sterling will stand at least a few more months – maybe longer – because the new Luzerne County Council must take a stand on the proposed demolition, officials said Wednesday.
The now-eliminated county commissioners had voted in November to allocate $1 million in community development funding to demolish the landmark Wilkes-Barre structure and develop a demolition plan.
However, the new County Council must approve the demolition for it to take effect, county Councilman Stephen A. Urban, a former commissioner, said during Tuesday’s county council meeting.
The subject came up because Kingston resident Brian Shiner and county Controller Walter Griffith urged the council to put a hold on demolition plans until it learns the results of a federal grand jury investigation of the Sterling project.
Citing safety concerns, the city last fall set up traffic detours near the Sterling on Market and River streets after a city engineer determined the 114-year-old vacant building is structurally unsound. City officials said the detours will remain indefinitely.
Also, an FBI agent collected subpoenaed documents from the county in December. These documents detailed how the Sterling’s owner, the nonprofit CityVest, spent $6 million loaned by the county to preserve and market the property. County officials say they are still in the dark about the nature of the federal probe.
The demolition design can’t be started until the county, Wilkes-Barre and CityVest approve a cooperation agreement, Chief County Engineer Joe Gibbons said Wednesday.
CityVest, which is governed by a volunteer board, owns the building but is out of funding. Wilkes-Barre, which condemned the structure, will allocate $260,000 in state gaming funds that had already been earmarked for the Sterling.
The cooperation agreement, which is being handled by the county Community Development Office, will outline financial and liability responsibilities and ensure the county receives proceeds from the sale of the more than 3 acres of prime land, said Gibbons and county Community Development Director Andrew Reilly.
“It will also protect the county from a legal standpoint since we’re only acting as an agent here,” Gibbons said.
The demolition plan, to be prepared by Quad Three Group, will take weeks to complete because of the complexity of the property layout, Gibbons said.
Among other concerns, a primary city-owned storm/sewer system runs beneath the roadway near the Sterling. The aging, brick system could be vulnerable, Gibbons said. “It leads right to pump stations and is a main collector going through downtown Wilkes-Barre, so we need to prevent that system from collapsing,” Gibbons said.
The basement walls of the Sterling must be maintained and braced because they serve as retaining walls that will support River and Market streets after the building is gone, Gibbons said.
Care must be taken to protect the neighboring Sterling Annex, which was purchased and mothballed by the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business & Industry for future reuse, he said.
Most of the buildings in the Sterling neighborhood are at least a century old, and intense vibration could jeopardize their structural integrity, he said. The tower building once attached to the Sterling was dismantled in sections. “Implosion is not an option here,” he said.
A meeting with local and state historic preservationists also must occur to identify items that should be catalogued or saved, Gibbons said.
The project can’t be publicly bid until the demolition plan is completed and approved by county officials, he said.
Griffith and Shiner told the council to stop demolition until the federal government verifies that it does not need the building intact as evidence.
Councilman Tim McGinley said Griffith publicly stated previously that the building should be taken down because it is a safety hazard, and the building was declared a hazard by the city.
Griffith said he believes an independent person should examine the structure to determine if it is a hazard, and he opposes the use of county or city funds for demolition.
Councilwoman Elaine Maddon Curry said Wednesday that she supports preservation and was disappointed CityVest allowed the building to “fall into such disrepair.”
“I think it’s now important to at least get any initial results of the federal investigation before we move in either direction,” she said.
Councilmen Eugene Kelleher and Edward Brominski said council members will have to discuss the matter and reach a collective decision.
Councilwoman Linda McClosky Houck said she agrees the demolition must be discussed, though council members must immediately focus on deadline decisions to amend the budget, hire a manager and make appointments to boards, authorities and commissions.
McGinley said he will make a decision in the best interest of the county and residents, but he must first review all documents associated with the project, including structural reports.
Councilman Stephen J. Urban said he believes demolition should proceed because of the potential safety hazard.
This article was written by Jennifer Learn-Andes and published by The Times Leader on Thursday, January 5th 2012 and NOT owned by nor affiliated with opacity.us, but are recorded here solely for educational use. The photographs featured in the article are randomly selected from the Hotel Sterling galleries on opacity.us unless noted otherwise; they may not directly relate to the article subject matter except for the site location - any other relation is purely coincidental.