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.
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.