IF I SAY “Hotel Sterling” and you reply “parking lot,” you should be banished to live your life in a yurt at the Mall of America lot (total on-site parking: 12,550).
Someone in authority — Mayor Tom Leighton comes to mind — should promise right now, unequivocally, that there will be no surface parking at whatever becomes of the four-acre lot after the historic hotel is tragically torn down.
It would be nice if someone in authority explained what happened to the millions in public money spent to “preserve” the hotel for this demolition, but, hey, why shoot for the basics?
In a page 1 story Saturday by Bill O’Boyle, Forty Fort architect Carl Handman said bluntly that there should be no surface parking lot.
He is more than bluntly right. The Annex part of the hotel that was torn down in the failed preservation effort is already a de facto surface lot (of gravel), and it stands as proof aplenty that such use would be beyond waste of such prime real estate.
A parking garage? Maybe. But the city would have to justify two things: that a garage is truly needed, and that a garage so close to the Market Street Bridge city gateway would not add to traffic woes as motorists waited to get in or out.
At first blush it doesn’t seem like a practical place for a garage, but New York City has a garage pretty much at the exit of the Lincoln Tunnel, and it’s often the optimal choice for visitors from further west (read: me).
But Wilkes-Barre is not Manhattan. If it were, developers and architects would be lining up from the Sterling to Pittston with ideas for the locale.
So the seemingly simple question raised in Bill’s story merits very serious consideration: What’s next for the lot that soon will be the remains of Hotel Sterling?
The frequently perspicacious Larry Newman said it fairly succinctly: “What’s clear, in any event, is that this is not the place for a ‘cookie-cutter’ building, or for a development that’s conceived in haste.”
It is true that the corner of Market and River Streets is no longer the primary gateway to Wilkes-Barre. Interstate 81 exits snagged that claim decades ago. As a West Hazleton native, my gateway was usually South Main Street via Blackman Street.
But the Market Street Bridge is still the most dramatic, picturesque portal to the city. And it’s not just those impressive stone eagles capping the four bridge towers (and, yes, I remember the era of ugly when some urban designer marred the bridge with electronic signs of green arrows and red Xs apparently intended to make the iconic bridge more malleable to modern traffic flow).
It’s more than the eagles that make the bridge so grand. It’s all the church steeples. It’s the courthouse dome. It’s the old building that now serves as HQ for the Guard Insurance Group. It’s the recent addition of the river commons access to the banks of the Susquehanna.
No other entry into Wilkes-Barre says as much about the city. It is iconic. It is photogenic. It’s the post card portal.
As Newman said, “Given the level of public investment in and concern for the Hotel Sterling, and the dismay over its loss, we should now proceed judiciously, via a well-conceived planning and development strategy, to ensure that the results of redevelopment are truly worthy of this gateway location, and that they meet the public’s appropriately high expectations.
“The community deserves nothing less.”