Saturday, April 2, 2011

Hotel Sterling Too Far Gone

As predicted, some people have begun protesting the possible demolition of the Hotel Sterling. Many hold signs that read "Save the Sterling". But they fail to realize that the effort to save the Sterling has already taken place, and has failed.

According to the Citizen's Voice:
In 1998, elderly and disabled residents were forced out of the hotel after former owner Neal Camera of Susquehanna Partners in Hannis Port, Mass., did not pay a $227,000 bill and the electricity was shut off. A small fire broke out at the hotel two years later.
The former owner owed $1 million in back taxes, which were forgiven by officials. Another million was owed by other owners.

In other words, its private owners couldn't afford to keep it going.

According to the Times Leader, the Luzerne County government bought the property from then-owners Gregory Lull and Stephanie Jacobs, who themselves owed debt on the property along with whoever was responsible for a strange loan/agreement known as the "Perry-Block", which pertained to properties bordering the Sterling.

The county then entrusted the building to CityVest, a non-profit organization tasked with prepping the property for a buyer/renovator. CityVest paid off all the debt on the property the request of the city of Wilkes-Barre.

Interestingly, King's College president Thomas O'Hara, who is stepping down this year, sits on CityVest's board along with businessman Judd Shoval, after whom the Shoval Center at King's College is named.

CityVest bought adjacent properties in 2006 with $325,000 of county money. It also "paid $640,000 to purchase an adjacent parking lot from Ali Kazimi and Nasser Chafieian."

"$3.09 million [more] was spent on demolition and environmental abatement, primarily the 2006 removal of the 14-story high-rise and connector building at the rear of the original 113-year-old hotel."

Unless CityVest is guilty of some sort of gross impropriety, which it probably isn't, then it seems likely that every possible measure was taken--at taxpayers expense--to save the Sterling.

Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton said he believes all options have been explored for the Hotel Sterling. If it is demolished, he believes the land can be used for a future development.

Our Take
The reason CityVest failed is that they were the ultimate sellers of last resort for a property nobody wanted. They couldn't make chicken salad out of chickensh*t. Agreed, this is a harsh way to describe the building, but the fact is that it needed at least $24 million in repairs and was situated in the demographically imploding City of Wilkes-Barre along a busy River Street with "Baghdad-style" city roads leading to it and nowhere to park.

On warm days moldy fumes emanate from the building, which once gave a NuPo staff member an asthma attack. The Scriptures have specific laws about how to deal with mold. If, after scrubbing the walls of a mold-ridden house, mold returned, the blocks used to build it were to be disposed of and were forbidden from being used to build another house. The ancient Hebrews understood that mold is bad for the health.

Even if the mold problem could be fixed, the financial one cannot. Given that estimates of costs of restoring the hotel range from 24 to 100 million dollars, the message for those protesting its demolition is: "if you want to save it, you pay for it."

The fact that a King's College donor and its president secured government funds to buy surrounding properties and attach them to the Sterling property, thus making the package as a whole more desirable if demolished means that King's College should be prohibited from buying the property for at least the next 25 years, unless the college pays the amount it would have had to pay if it had bought the properties individually. Any type of de facto behind the back grant to the college under the auspices of a grant for the Sterling would not be honest. Alas, things get complicated when the government gets involved in the real estate business... This point may be uselessly stated, however, because there is no indication that King's has expressed interest in purchasing the property.

Finally, buildings die just as people do. Nothing in this world lasts forever. A better way to deal with the hotel's passing would be to throw a dinner in its honor where people could meet, share their memories, and give the place a proper sendoff.

Read more:


  1. I couldn't post enough to give you my full feelings on your post here. If you'd like to know how the rest of Wilkes Barre feels about what you have to say please stop over and take a glance. Also if you are general public I'd suggest you also come take a look. The Hotel Sterling is a one of a kind structure, over 100 years old standing strong through floods and terrible economies all leading to the only true destructive force on Earth. MAN. Man is the only element which can destroy this historic landmark, and not all man. The small minded man, the ignorant, those who chose to not ask WHY? Do something about this people. They took 10+ million, invested in various properties, taxes, demolitions, and now want 1 million more to FULLY fail the restoration of the Sterling, and destroy it. Are you OK with that? Are you OK with Congressman Kanjorski and his elite band of fund thieves taking our money to destroy our landmark? Are you OK with the strange coincidences with the properties the county/city/cityvest own? How about the "river commons" portals, one is located directly across from City owned Irem temple, and it's the same width as the portal... Notice no politicians, aside from our County Controller really seem to mind that 10 million have been embezzled? WAKE UP PEOPLE!

  2. I've read your blod entry in the link; sorry it's taken so long for me to post a reply. Some of the points you made I found most interesting were:

    That Kanjorski formed CityVest.

    The Lulls were friends of Vonderheid and were not responsible for paying the lien on the Perry Block buidling.

    That the east portal on the Wilkes-Barre River Common lines up perfectly with the Irem Temple Mosque--owned by the Wilkes-Barre Chamber.

    I would contend with several of your points:

    1. Your overall thesis seems to be that the building is salvagable and more less victim to a plot of CityVest et al. The insinuation seems to be that if not for CityVest, the building would have a nice owner and be rennovated. But the building was on a steady decline from the 1980s onward. The economic reality is that nobody could afford to keep the building going. After many had failed, CityVest stepped in. CityVest was like a vulture on an already dead building. Reasons why nobody wants the Sterling are numerous, including a preference among visitors for newer hotels closer to the highway and a decline in W-B City's population from 80,000 in the '30s to just above 40,000 today. So even if it is restored, it may be almost as empty. Finally, although many locals revere the Sterling, tourists from elsewhere will probably opt for places like Boston over little old Wilkes-Barre.

    No investor would choose a decaying building in a bad location.

    Although I am not convinced CityVest was involved in illegal activity, the setup of the CityVest arrangement with the hotel was unjust. The socialistic redistribution of land by the county and city in Luzerne County could be expected to lead to political decisions such as the one to let the Lulls walk away.

    While I would agree that money seems to have been wasted by CityVest, I think it may well have been wasted by any rennovator/seller.

    I maintain that all CityVest board members and customers should be barred from buying the building for about 25 years.

    Finally, I would like to see the building stand for another 100 years, and maybe it should stand as a monument unto itself, but I believe restoration is not an option in the near future unless some billionaire wants to contribute the many millions needed to rennovate it.

  3. Sean the Don,

    I want to clarify that I appreciate your points about Kanjorski, the Lulls being friends of Vonderheid, and the portal's location.