Hotel Sterling: The UnDead Days Part 2
“Zombie Building” is a real-world term being used by financial analysts that describes the exact situation that Wilkes-Barre is facing with the Hotel Sterling….
**See LIVE Zombie Video HERE !
This post includes newspaper coverage about the redevelopment project since 2001 & a 2012 floor-by-floor tour of Wilkes-Barre’s very own Zombie Hotel!
Hotel Sterling: The UnDead Days
S O S
HELP!!!!!!!!! We’ve Created a Zombie Hotel……Using Millions of Taxpayer $$$!!!!
(A Mr. Peanut / Che Guevara / Hotel Sterling / Zombie / Urban Exploration Mashup!)
An in-depth look at the Hotel Sterling failed preservation attempt….the zombies are just here to make it interesting!
*NOTE: If you’ve missed the briefing about the Hotel Sterling, see Part 1: An Introduction prior to proceeding to Level 2
A MESSAGE FROM MR. “CHE” PEANUT TO THE CITIZENS OF WILKES-BARRE (AND LUZERNE COUNTY):
Good citizens of my hometown, as a gentleman, created at a time when Wilkes-Barre HAD real gentlemen, I represent American integrity, entrepreneurship, and industry at its finest. The Wilkes-Barre that once was, and that we still wish we were today.
If you want to ponder THAT Mr. Peanut, march yourself to the LCHS where they are more than happy to preserve my iconic advertising image for the community at large, the one preferred by gentlemen, or those who at least make an effort to pretend to BE gentlemen. Perhaps you will become inspired to find the entrepreneur within yourself!
Today, my life is much different. My years of living in exile in Atlantic City, after being forced from my hometown as the result of a botched community redevelopment project, have changed me in ways I cannot even begin to explain. As I have done in the past by lending my image to the national World War II effort, my conscience has compelled me to demand a Wilkes-Barre revolution!
I am here today to call upon you to prepare to wage a war against the virus that is poised to wipe out your hometown if your leaders do not take action to contain this insidious disease. What they have conspired to hide from you, up until now, is the fact that the Zombie Apocalypse has already started in Wilkes-Barre!
I suspected that a zombie uprising was in the air when a strip mall failed to materialize along with the repurposing of my own home, The Planters Nut and Chocolate Company corporate office building. There was just no way to be sure until recent events concerning the Hotel Sterling confirmed my suspicion.
As you can see, my message today is vastly different than my message of March 2011, when trying to mobilize forces for the purpose of preserving the Hotel Sterling, aka Wilkes-Barre’s own Zombie Hotel. I now realize how naive and uninformed my view was at that time. The continuous transmissions of images from urban exploration photojournalists nationwide are proof that the deterioration and loss of historic structures is an issue of epidemic proportion in our hometowns as a result of the fallout from the post-industrial decline of America.
Right now, more so than any other time in the history of the United States, communities across the country are littered with abandoned and actively decaying buildings, and few resources available to deal with the issue, due to the fact that taxpayers, city budgets, lending intuitions, lines of credit and government sources of funding are already over-extended.
What makes the Hotel Sterling an especially insidious Zombie Building, even by Zombie Building standards, is that this particular undead hotel was actually created using taxpayer money!
“Zombie Building” is a term first coined by financial analysts to explain the national collapse of the commercial real estate market as far back as 2006, and has expanded to represent buildings that are unusable due to disrepair because they are owned by entities that are too broke to fix them. The public must be warned that clusters of Zombie Buildings can become powerful enough to bring an economic apocalypse to entire neighborhoods and collapse whole cities! But I am getting ahead of myself here….
As the public discussion continues about what to do with the Zombified Hotel Sterling, we must first assess the entire situation to the best of our civilian abilities. My guerrilla photojournalist forces have returned after successfully infiltrating Zombie Sterling with information that clearly shows the a lack of understanding, and the extent of misinformation perpetuated by well-meaning preservation enthusiasts, the media, the zombie corporation known as CityVest and community leaders (possibly zombies themselves), concerning the failed preservation attempt of the Hotel Sterling. The infomation also clearly shows that some local journalists have been sounding alarms about the project, from as far back as 2001, which were largely ignored by citizens (more zombies?) and local officials. The current images plus old, as well as new, public communications excerpts speak for themselves. Prepare yourself, for what you are about to see may cause nightmares for taxpayers.
ZOMBIE BUILDING 411 REPORT:
HOTEL STERLING, WILKES-BARRE, PENNSYLVANIA
**NOTE: The Hotel Sterling Opened in 1898. During the thirties, an addition was constructed, and an existing hotel was purchased, to create an expanded version of the Hotel Sterling. Those areas of expansion have been demolished as part of the restoration attempt by the owners, the non-profit zombie creator known as CityVest, and all that remains standing today is the original structure.
All photos contained within this report were captured during Zombie Sterling Infiltration missions executed during February & March of 2012
The advance state of disrepair the Hotel Sterling has fallen into in downtown Wilkes-Barre has local historians worried about its future.”—The Valley’s Vanishing History”, Citizens’ Voice, March 18, 2001
The 425 room hotel was a symbol of Wilkes-Barre’s prominence. Now, it’s a symbol of the city’s decay.–“Saving City, Sterling Go Hand in Hand”, Times Leader, December 17, 2002
Congressman Kanjorski has also been working behind the scenes for years to create opportunities for the resurrection of the Sterling. On Wednesday, the federal lawmaker confirmed that last week he led a developer on a tour of the Sterling. He has been in touch with four different developers over the past year. He declined to identify them but stressed that it is important to get the Sterling in the hands of CityVest so that redevelopment proposals could be solicited to get the project moving forward.” – “Developers interested in Sterling”, Citizens’ Voice, May 9, 2002
CityVest is working to put the vacant hotel in moth balls and prevent additional damage from the elements“–Saving City, Sterling Go Hand in Hand”, Times Leader, December 17, 2002
Private development is the key–“Saving City, Sterling Go Hand in Hand”, Times Leader, December 17, 2002
If projects like the inflatable damn, the downtown museum and the River Commons recreation area pan out, it will make the Sterling more attractive to developers. But it won’t be enough.–“Saving City, Sterling Go Hand in Hand”, Times Leader, December 17, 2002
And unless we turn the tide, we’ll forever be a city that has seen better days, and the shell of the Sterling will stand as proof. We can still hook a developer for the Sterling if things don’t turn around, but we’ll have to use smoke and mirrors. We’ll have to hide the newspapers when prospects visit, so they won’t read about our dirty politics, disappearing doctors, etc.–“Saving City, Sterling Go Hand in Hand”, Times Leader, December 17, 2002
“In the past few months, other developers near and far have shown interest in the hotel, (Alex) Rogers said. In addition, he added, residents, architects and others have offered to assist CityVest, which has secured the complex of buildings in an attempt to reduce further weather-related damage.” — “Some Sterling Examples”, Times Leader, April 3, 2003
Lincoln was chosen to find a developer (for the Hotel Sterling) because the firm has acquired a lot of experience in the region. It has played a major role in guiding commercial development on Highland Park Boulevard near the Wachovia Arena in Wilkes-Barre Township and recently completed a detailed market study of Wilkes-Barre for the Diamond City Partnership. –“National Firm Will Market Sterling”, Citizens’ Voice, September 16, 2003
Coat Check Room
Gary Brandeis, senior vice president of Lincoln Properties and James Stevenson, vice president, were introduced, and both expressed confidence that the Sterling complex would be successfully transformed. –“National Firm Will Market Sterling”, Citizens’ Voice, September 16, 2003
CityVest paid $1 million for the dilapidated Sterling complex in November 2002 at sheriff sale, a benchmark event following years of abandonment, decay and protracted litigation. –“National Firm Will Market Sterling”, Citizens’ Voice, September 16, 2003
CityVest was provided with a $1 million federal grant from U.S. Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-11 & a $4 million loan from the Luzerne County Office of Community Development. Wilkes-Barre City, the Wilkes-Barre Area School District and Luzerne County agreed to forego $1 million in back taxes and penalties to facilitate the purchase and redevelopment of the Sterling. –“National Firm Will Market Sterling”, Citizens’ Voice, September 16, 2003
In January 2003, CityVest retained a team of local architects and engineers to assist them to stabilize and protect the complex from further decline. –“National Firm Will Market Sterling”, Citizens’ Voice, September 16, 2003
Renovations to the Hotel Sterling will begin this spring and will not be completed until at least 2007, according to CityVest Chairman Alex Rogers. However, he said he has already fielded over 20 inquires about the proposed condominiums and offices. – “Market Shows interest in Condominiums”, The Sunday Voice, October 10, 2004
Working from the seventh floor down, obvious challenges to redevelopment could be seen everywhere. The building has problems with infestation and mold, and also sustained heavy water damage due to prolonged leakage in the roof. A hole opened in the seventh floor penthouse suite, and Rogers said water came pouring into the building for four months. Because of that, the suspended ceilings in many of the former apartments have crumbled, sending debris onto the floor.—“Imagine the Possibilities”, The Sunday Voice, October 10, 2004
The commissioner (Vonderheid) said the Sterling project was specifically important because he feels there is a need for high end housing in the City of Wilkes-Barre.—“Market Shows Interest in Condominiums”, The Sunday Voice, October 10, 2004
The mayor agreed there is a market for upscale housing in the city of Wilkes-Barre. “I’ve been told that if the housing industry changed in the city of Wilkes-Barre, people who live in the suburbs would seriously consider moving back into the city”, Leighton said.—“Market Shows Interest in Condominiums”, The Sunday Voice, October 10, 2004
He (Rogers) agrees with Congressman Paul E. Kanjorski, that the Hotel Sterling might be eligible for federal tax credits meant for development projects in low-income communities. –“State Ensuring Preservation of Hotel Sterling’s Legacy: Bureau for Historical Preservation Will OK CityVest’s Progress”, Citizens’ Voice, June 7, 2005
“The governor’s award of $3 million made it clear that we had sufficient capital to complete the project”, Alex Rogers, City Vest executive director — “Sterling Gets Developer”, Times Leader, December 1, 2004
“CityVest, the nonprofit corporation driving the rehabilitation of the Hotel Sterling is no longer shopping the decrepit landmark to private developers, but is planning to take on the project itself”……“Interest in a reincarnated Sterling has already begun to manifest itself, (Alex) Rogers said. “The number of inquiries we have received from people waiting to live or work in a refurbished Hotel Sterling has vastly surpassed any of our individual expectations.”—“CityVest To Do the Job Using Millions in Grants”, Times Leader, December 1, 2004
“CityVest shifted gears from marketing the Sterling to developers to becoming the developer after receiving millions of dollars in state funding in September.”–“CityVest To Do the Job Using Millions in Grants”, Times Leader, December 1, 2004
The initial phase of the project has been projected to cost about $22 million. Thus far, about $8 million in cash has been promised by federal, state and county sources, and $1 million in tax forgiveness has been by the city, county and school board. “We are going to need a lot of private financing to go with the public money”, Rogers said. -– “Firms: Sterling Project Can Thrive”, Times Leader, April 15, 2005
With $9 million already raised, the corporation must look for new ways to come up with the remainder of the cash (to cover the first part of the project in excess of $29 million). “We anticipate raising private sector money and will continue to seek public assistance as well”, the chairman said. Rogers said that with the capital that CityVest has already secured, the corporation could actively market the building. –- “Imagine the Possibilities”, The Sunday Voice, October 10, 2004
“Without any formal marketing, CityVest board members can’t go to any functions in town without somebody expressing interest”, Rogers said..–“State Ensuring Preservation of Hotel Sterling’s Legacy: Bureau for Historical Preservation Will OK CityVest’s Progress”, Citizens’ Voice, June 7, 2005
The building schedule has not been established. That’s up to CityVest which is still making environmental inspections and consulting with the state Bureau for Historical Preservation to make sure the landmark’s historical integrity is protected.–“Historic Landmarks Offer Potential, Pitfalls for Architects”, Citizens’ Voice, June 7, 2005
To date, the bureau remains pleased with the relationship with CityVest.–“State Ensuring Preservation of Hotel Sterling’s Legacy: Bureau for Historical Preservation Will OK CityVest’s Progress”, Citizens’ Voice, June 7, 2005
Currently, CityVest has accounted for about $9 million of the projected $20 million to $22 million needed for renovation. But Rogers is optimistic about CityVest’s chances of raising the needed $10 million to $12 million..–“State Ensuring Preservation of Hotel Sterling’s Legacy: Bureau for Historical Preservation Will OK CityVest’s Progress”, Citizens’ Voice, June 7, 2005
“The state is filled with historic structures facing demolition, he said. He’s been working with the owners of the massive former Pennhurst State School and Hospital in Chester County, which has an unknown future. One of Kimmerly’s (of Preservation Pennsylvania) colleagues is involved in the potential demolition of a vacant former brewery in Allentown. “These are difficult times economically. Private funders don’t have money. The government doesn’t have any money, and typically that’s where money comes for historic preservation,” Kimmerly said. – “Preservation Pennsylvania is monitoring Hotel Sterling”, Times Leader, April 3, 2011
As the nonprofit CityVest embarked on the Hotel Sterling renovation project in 2001, officials and residents in a smaller Ohio city were taking on a similar project to try to save their deteriorating historic hotel. But while the Hotel Sterling is facing possible demolition, the Fort Piqua Plaza in Piqua, Ohio, is now home to a library, coffee shop, banquet hall, community museum and art gallery, said James Oda, director of the Piqua Public Library housed in the building. “It was a controversial issue locally. We had people who said, ‘Why don’t we tear it down and start over?’ Others said, ‘No. This is part of our community’s heritage,’” Oda said. “Fortunately, people who wanted to preserve the building opened their pocketbooks,” Oda said…….. “The private donations came from sources as diverse as an elementary school selling popsicles to some multimillion-dollar donations primarily from a prominent family,” Oda said. –“Ohio City’s Hotel Saved”, Times Leader, April 3, 2011 (NOTE: The building opened in 2008)
The owner of the landmark Hotel Sterling wants Luzerne County government to determine the fate of the deteriorating structure, which would cost up to an estimated $26.8 million to $35.6 million to fully restore, according to a new study. CityVest asked county commissioners to decide whether the building will be saved or demolished because the county provided $6 million in funding for the nonprofit to acquire and preserve the building. “In recognition of the substantial investment the county has made and the broad community interest, we ask the county to review this study, select the preferred future direction, acquire title and serve as project manager,” the study says.—“Sterling’s Fate in County’s Hands”, Times Leader, April 16, 2011
The possibility of demolition of the River Street landmark has generated lots of debate since it became public last month, after a decade of promises that the building would be restored. Picketers have urged officials to save the once luxurious hotel, while others have demanded an end to government subsidy of the project. . ..CityVest, known as a last-resort developer, assumed ownership of the building from a back-tax sale in 2002.—“Sterling’s Fate in County’s Hands”, Times Leader, April 16, 2011
Renovating and converting the downtown Wilkes-Barre property into 32 condos, offices and retail space would generate an estimated $15.3 million in revenue, leaving a net government investment in the project of $11.5 million to $20.2 million, said the study released Friday by the building’s nonprofit owner and developer, CityVest. Demolition and site preparation would cost $900,000 to $1.2 million, the study says.—“Sterling’s Fate in County’s Hands”, Times Leader, April 16, 2011
The study is packed with deficiencies in the building. Roofing experts estimated it would cost more than $1.4 million to complete permanent repairs to the roof framing and install a new rubber roof and roof drainage. Despite roof shoring in 2007, some portions of the roof are collapsing, and water is getting into the building in “significant volumes,” the study said. The floor is sagging in numerous areas, and there’s evidence of mold and other potential toxins, including a “pretty, green ‘carpet’ of moss on some floors, ceilings and walls.” “If there is mold growing in the cells of the floor system (or even if public perception is that it is there), the building might not be insurable at an economic level,” the study says. The building’s structural steel system appears sufficient, but beams that have been regularly exposed to moisture may need to be repaired and replaced. The windows would also have to be replaced. Water is getting into the building in “significant volumes,” according to Keast & Hood Co. The brick masonry at the rear of the structure needs “considerable repair, re-pointing and cleaning.” The study says a major snow load, high wind storm or movement of the make-shift support bracing could result in a catastrophic failure of the building or integrity of the exterior façade. “The observations of local contractors and engineers further confirm these conditions to the point where concern has been expressed about the safety of anyone entering the upper portion of the building or performing any work in that area,” the study says.—“Sterling’s Fate in County’s Hands”, Times Leader, April 16, 2011
CityVest has provided detailed funding and site information to potential private developers, met with them and in one instance signed a letter of intent, the study says. “Every potential developer – including the firm that had signed the letter of intent – ultimately withdrew themselves from consideration,” the report said. All the developers who walked away from the project identified the cost of repairs as the reason, particularly when they couldn’t guarantee they could sell or rent the residential and/or commercial space at price points that would cover their expenses, the study said. —“Sterling’s Fate in County’s Hands”, Times Leader, April 16, 2011
**THRID FLOOR THRU SEVENTH FLOOR**
ALL FLOORS ARE COMPLETELY GUTTED
Among the building deficiencies identified by developers: Low ceiling height, compromised views from small windows, an inefficient layout for use as residential or hotel units, unusable space created by the large lobby and atrium, inconsistent floor elevations on the second floor, narrow elevators that don’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, concern that replacement of the floors could risk structural instability of the building because of the way the floors are anchored to the building’s perimeter walls.– “Sterling’s Fate in County’s Hands”, Times Leader, April 16, 2011
The building has “physically and functionally” lost its status as a center of downtown Wilkes-Barre over the last 40 years..– “Sterling’s Fate in County’s Hands”, Times Leader, April 16, 2011
“Vacant, stripped of every item that contributed to a memorable experience, the remaining shell is cold, damp and lifeless,” said the study, which was prepared by Susquehanna Real Estate LP. “The current condition is not only poor, but also dangerous.” —“Sterling’s Fate in County’s Hands”, Times Leader, April 16, 2011
County Controller Walter Griffith told commissioners Wednesday that he is still auditing records on how the $6 million was spent, though his findings to date convince him that the county should have been more closely monitoring the project.. –“W-B building ‘emergency’ “, Times Leader, April 21, 2011
CityVest officials defended their handling of the project in a letter to citizens, saying the government funding was used to pay inherited back taxes, demolish an adjoining structure, acquire land to make the parcel larger and remove “cheap and rotting” interior walls in drop ceilings in the 113-year-old hotel. —“Sterling’s Fate in County’s Hands”, Times Leader, April 16, 2011
CityVest on Wednesday issued a statement in response that said a developer pulled out of the Sterling Hotel project in early 2010 when it was learned the $3 million was redirected. CityVest disputes the city’s claim that certain conditions were not met.—“CityVest, City Clash on $3M”, Times Leader, June 23, 2011
“Federal investigators following up on a grand jury subpoena issued last week to the Luzerne County commissioners took possession Monday of hundreds of documents chronicling the failed rehabilitation of the historic Hotel Sterling in Wilkes-Barre, officials said.”—“Feds Seize Hundreds of Hotel Sterling Documented”, Times Leader, December 7, 2011
If an agreement isn’t reached, Wilkes-Barre eventually may be forced to demolish the city-condemned structure at its expense. The city would then have to put a lien on the property in an attempt to recoup the money, though the county would also be in line with its own lien for $6 million.—“ CityVest yet to sign deal on Sterling”, Times Leader, February 9, 2012
CityVest owes the county $6 million loaned to preserve and market the structure, and the county has set aside another $1 million in community development funding for demolition. The nonprofit asked the county to take over the project last year because it’s out of money. –“Architect wants to mothball Sterling”, Times Leader, February, 21, 2012
(Carl) Handman, who had worked on the Sterling project in 2003, has publicly criticized the building’s nonprofit owner, CityVest, for failing to heed his past recommendation to mothball the structure to prevent further deterioration. CityVest representatives have said the nonprofit relied on project manager Lincoln Property Co.’s expert opinion on what work should be completed with the limited funds allocated for the project. –“Architect wants to mothball Sterling”, Times Leader, February, 21, 2012
Mothballing would involve structural work, roof repairs, window sealing and ventilation. –“ Several Luzerne County Council members are willing to consider mothballing the landmark Hotel Sterling for potential future development, but most are leaning toward proceeding with demolition”, Times Leader, February 23, 2012
A March 2011 report released by the Sterling’s nonprofit owner, CityVest, contained a $1.2 million estimate to demolish the property. The study also references a 2009 roofing company estimate of $1.4 million to redo the roof, replacing the wood framing with steel and metal. Other portions of the CityVest study say it will cost anywhere from $5 million to $7.7 million to stabilize and mothball the 114-year-old building at the corner of River and Market streets. –“Architect wants to mothball Sterling”, Times Leader, February, 21, 2012
IN CONCLUSION: ZOMBIE STERLING
Many people blame this failed rehabilitation attempt on CityVest, even saying that funding was grossly mishandled. I cannot speak to that issue today; we can only hope that the federal investigation into the matter will give the taxpayers the answers they deserve about the way their hard-earned tax money was used by the non-profit. And of course, CityVest’s decision to not proceed with “mothballing” the structure will always be questioned.
But, misused funds or not, it is obvious that evidence clearly suggests that a positive preservation outcome may have been highly improbable to achieve in the end, given the condition of the hotel when the project began, and several other issues that are evident upon reviewing the above communications excerpts from CityVest representatives and community leaders that were shared with the public via various media outlets.
It is striking to realize that local journalists were referring to the structure as decaying and decrepit as far back as 2001—a red flag about the magnitude of the project itself and the funds required for completion. It is clear that leaders and CityVest representatives lacked an understanding of the local real estate market that they were working in to develop the property based upon statements in 2004 that were leading the public to believe that Wilkes-Barre had an established market for high end housing at that location, which was then downgraded in other statements made in 2005 saying that the Sterling may be eligible for tax credits meant for developing projects in low-income communities.
How did our community leaders expect to attract developers willing to put money into a project with such a high price tag if there was no way for them to hope to get any return on that investment because the project was in a “low-income community” to begin with? As you will see in the WILKES-BARRE ZOMBIE BUILDING APOCALYPSE CIVILIAN DEBRIEFING below, the entire concept for the Sterling project (& the other historic structures included in the vision) may have been too high-end for the reality of the Wilkes-Barre real estate market. For years, the public was being sold on an upscale vision when in reality, that market/location has attracted volunteer services and companies specializing in addiction rehabilitation.
Another issue that was hinted at from the inception of the Sterling project was that Wilkes-Barre’s reputation for corrupt political dealings was going to make it difficult to attract serious developers who wanted to invest in our community. Since that time, we all know that things have only taken a turn for the worst (Kids for Cash, need I say more?) The fact is that preservation enthusiasts in our community need to consider the real-world obstacles that Wilkes-Barre faces while moving forward with any more projects now or in the future.
When historic preservation is discussed in Luzerne County, the conversation is very one-sided and usually consisting of attempts by preservationists to guilt the public into letting proponents have their way by insisting that people “don’t value history” if they are against a restoration project. It’s time to get real about historic preservation in Luzerne County. The fact is that because of changes in the structure of the global market and the national economy, communities that have not been investing wisely in their history when things were really good, are going to lose a lot of that history now!
Careful, realistic planning is the only weapon that we have to use in our arsenal. Gone are the days when you could save history just for the sake of history. Like it or not, these are often big ticket projects that require the help of outside private developers who are going to be looking for a return on their investment. And while there are plenty of entities who will encourage communities to move forward with such projects, there are none who will assist them in assessing the situation beforehand to see if such a project is even viable in the first place. HISTORIC PRESERVATION in and of itself is BIG BUSINESS. Who can we count on to tell us when taking on a project may not be feasible in our community? Is the consulting firm hired to market the project going to do it? Are the all of the architect firms that stand to benefit from the proposed project going sound the alarms? Will non-profit entities such as Preservation Pennsylvania, who earn their keep pushing a preservation agenda, do it?
Even in discussing what the community should do with the Zombie Hotel Sterling, the conversation seems focused on the structure itself and what CAN be done (& believe me, SOMETHING can ALWAYS be done), but no one is questioning what SHOULD be done when all of the external factors are considered.
First, we must think long and hard about whether or not a structure that has been completely stripped of any remnants of the past should really be considered for historic preservation, especially since the community does have other historic structures that are in much better condition that require our attention also.
Secondly, many components need to be in place in a community to successfully complete a multi-million dollar historic preservation project. What in Luzerne County has changed that would make success in ANY expensive historic preservation effort a possibility now? I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t believe that anyone has an answer to that question.
Wilkes-Barre Zombie Building Apocalypse Civilian Debriefing
So what can we, as civilians, hope to do to prevent the Zombie Building Apocalypse from further infiltrating Wilkes-Barre? We must first begin by identifying potential zombie building threats in the making. This matter requires the public’s immediate attention since there is a possible zombie cluster already forming in the area where the Zombie Hotel Sterling is located. This fact is quite mind-boggling, & should have our community leaders hard at work seeking solutions, considering that this region in one block away from the epicenter of Wilkes-Barre, and also one block away from one of the city’s institutions of higher learning. The successful development of these structures, according to news sources, was tied to the successful redevelopment of the Zombie Hotel Sterling.
With the fate of the Zombie Sterling in question, we need to carefully watch these surrounding structures for signs of irreversible Zombification. Because as we now know, even when a zombie building is privately owned, if the owner falls into financial straits, the zombie becomes the taxpayer’s burden.
Nearly a decade ago, it was dubbed the “Susquehanna Landing,” a grand vision for an important downtown Wilkes-Barre block packed with historic properties. The original Hotel Sterling at the corner of Market and River streets would be converted into residential units with a new hotel or residential facility rising from the now-vacant lot at its rear. A parkade would be sandwiched inside the block, somehow incorporating the four-story Luzerne County-owned Springbrook Water Co. building fronting North Franklin Street. Covered, elevated walkways would lead from the hotel and parkade to a conference center linked to the former Irem Temple mosque. The walkways would also connect to a museum housed in the Sterling Annex. A new structure could also be built on the Irem’s River Street parking lot facing the Millennium Circle levee portal opening. –“ ‘Susquehanna Landing’ vision may be linked to Sterling” Times Leader, April 3, 2011
“Uncertainty about the landmark Hotel Sterling’s future is prompting some to re-evaluate the block and question whether the Irem, Annex and Springbrook will also be headed for demolition like the Sterling. The chamber purchased the Irem and Sterling Annex, but the Susquehanna Landing package had no funding and was put on the back burner while the nonprofit CityVest took charge of redeveloping the Hotel Sterling site, (Stephen) Barrouk said. (once head of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business & Industry) –“ ‘Susquehanna Landing’ vision may be linked to Sterling” Times Leader, April 3, 2011
Chamber Vice President Larry Newman said it would be a huge mistake to give up on the Irem and Sterling Annex. The properties were purchased largely in response to downtown visioning sessions a decade ago in which historic building preservation was identified as a top priority by hundreds of participating residents and business owners, he said.“We’re willing to continue to pay $50,000 a year for upkeep, repair and insurance of these two buildings because of our commitment to the long-term planning goal of finding the appropriate reuse for these buildings,” said Newman, who envisions an art gallery or museum in the Sterling Annex. Newman said it took 20 years to “figure out how to save” the Stegmaier Brewery on Wilkes-Barre Boulevard, which now houses federal offices. Support from other organizations and private investors will be needed to restore and fill the historic buildings, he said. –“‘Susquehanna Landing’ vision may be linked to Sterling” Times Leader, April 3, 2011
“The Chamber paid $125,000 for the Annex in 2004 and $992,000 for the Irem in 2005. Both buildings have been mothballed to minimize further deterioration and transferred to the tax-exempt Wilkes-Barre City Industrial Development Authority until they are developed. Roughly $80,000 has been spent by the Chamber on Irem roof repairs”–‘Susquehanna Landing’ vision may be linked to Sterling” Times Leader, April 3, 2011
“It should not be a surprise to anyone that it’s taking time. If we choose to abandon a planning objective because it takes time or is difficult, what does that say about us?” Newman said. Kingston Township resident Tom Dombroski has the opposite view, saying it’s time to let go of the historic structures in the block, especially if there’s a chance that new developers would be interested in the 3.34 acres in combined property. Dombroski owned several large mansions in the block that were converted to apartments, and his sons now own the properties. He believes the Chamber, CityVest and county should team up and advertise the parcels as a group to determine if any private developers are interested in purchasing the properties as is for a larger project that may or may not keep the historic structures.“There are enough historic buildings on River and Franklin streets that we don’t need to be saving these ones as well,” Dombroski said. “I think we have to forget about redoing these unless some private individuals are loaded with money and want to invest in them.” Dombroski doesn’t foresee government investing in the redevelopment projects for many years, if ever. “At one time government money was flowing freely, but there’s no money available now. Everyone wants taxes lowered. There’s antagonism against any kind of projects where the federal and state is coming up with money,” Dombroski said.–‘Susquehanna Landing’ vision may be linked to Sterling” Times Leader, April 3, 2011
The block’s newest tenant – Clearbrook Inc. – is locating its corporate offices into a former mansion on the River Street side near the Sterling, said Robert Piccone, president of the drug and alcohol treatment organization. Piccone is hopeful that the vacant sites in the rest of the block will be occupied. Clearbrook was attracted to the location because of improvements on the River Common, the proximity of Wilkes University and King’s College, and development activity downtown, he said. “We’ve been watching Wilkes-Barre turn around. Our goal here is to invest in the community,” Piccone said. Clearbrook paid $340,000 for the 9,600-square-foot, brick three-story in February and has already replaced all the windows and started interior renovations, with a target move-in date this summer, he said–‘Susquehanna Landing’ vision may be linked to Sterling” Times Leader, April 3, 2011
“Bill Jones, head of the Volunteers of America, which has offices and a transitional living unit in the River Street building next to the Sterling Annex, said government at all levels has been cutting back on funding for public education and human services in addition to redevelopment projects. He doesn’t fault the Chamber or CityVest or government leaders for the lack of movement on the historic properties in the block, saying it’s difficult to “line up those stars” to find developers, investors and public funding sources at the same time. – ‘Susquehanna Landing’ vision may be linked to Sterling” Times Leader, April 3, 2011
Luzerne County commissioners voted Wednesday to declare a state of emergency to clean and stabilize the county-owned Springbrook Water Co. building in downtown Wilkes-Barre. The property at 30 N. Franklin St. must be sanitized because homeless people broke into the building and defecated inside, county officials said. Water supply to the building had been turned off. Roof repairs are also needed to stop leaks. The declaration allows the county to avoid delays to publicly advertised bids, but the county will still seek multiple estimates from contractors to complete the work, said county Chief Engineer Joe Gibbons. All quotes solicited will be available for public inspection in his office if anyone wants to see them, he said. A building at the rear of the property also will be demolished because it’s in “deplorable condition” and is not historical, Gibbons said. The county acquired the Springbrook building in 2005 after the Virginia-based, nonprofit Conservation Fund purchased it as part of former watershed land from Theta Land Corp. County officials have unsuccessfully tried to sell the four-story Springbrook building for years, but county officials have said the site might become more marketable if it’s packaged with the attached Hotel Sterling property. —“W-B Building ‘emergency’ , Times Leader, April 21, 2011
Near the Sterling Hotel is another majestic edifice along West Market Street that is in much better shape, and the Realtor marketing the building said it’s in move-in condition for the most part…..Once Wachovia Securities moved out a few years ago, the building became vacant, but Mericle Commercial Real Estate broker Steve M. Barrouk said he believes the reason the building hasn’t been bought or leased for use has more to do with the economy than the building itself. “It’s a nice building, and frankly I’m surprised it’s been on the market this long,” said Barrouk, who noted the building is owned by a corporation called 24 West Market WB LLC, which is affiliated with attorney Alex Fishbeyn of Franklin Lakes, N.J. The company purchased the buildings in 2006 for $700,000. The list price on them now is $795,000. –“Stately Old Downtown Building Beckons”, Times Leader, April 2, 2011
(John) Augustine said an established technology company, which he declined to identify, looked at the property last year but ultimately declined…..(Steve) Barrouk said one issue with the building is the lack of parking, but he said there are garages nearby and limited on-street parking……(John) Augustine said that while the vault, or parking, or the building’s size can be blamed for it’s still being on the market, there is a simpler answer. “We’re in a recession. It’s the easiest answer,” he said. “I’m having trouble filling a 250-square-foot space.” –“Stately Old Downtown Building Beckons”, Times Leader, April 2, 2011
Other Long Vacant/Zombie Buildings of Historical Significance Worth Mentioning Within the General Area of the Zombie Sterling Hotel
…And, of course, “Che” Peanut’s Childhood Home
My blog was recently featured on “PA! live” as blog of the week!
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