WILKES-BARRE — Demolition of the historic Hotel Sterling, once a grand city landmark that has fallen into disrepair and become a dangerous eyesore, should begin by late June to mid-July, the city has announced.
The city on Monday received an official release of about $400,000 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that is the final piece of funding needed to cover demolition. The city will advertise for demolition bids this week, city Municipal Affairs Manager Drew McLaughlin said.
The funding is a portion of the city’s annual Community Development Block Grant allocation from HUD for removal of blighted properties.
“We are nearing the final stages of this demolition,” Mayor Tom Leighton said in a prepared statement. “This has been a top priority since the flooding of 2011. We all look forward to the day when the public safety threat has been addressed and the detour in downtown Wilkes-Barre is lifted.”
The former hotel, located on the northeast corner of North River and West Market streets, was condemned in 1998 and became a target of vandals. Its worsened condition after 2011 flooding led the city to close half of Market Street and a lane of River Street in September 2011 due to concerns the building could collapse.
McLaughlin said the demolition bid period will remain open for 20 days so contractors have ample time to receive and familiarize themselves with all necessary information in order to submit a proper bid.
The project has some complexities because of the building design, the proximity to other structures and restrictions and requirements imposed by state agencies such as the Game Commission and Historical and Museum Commission.
For example, the city already has a memorandum of understanding with the Historical and Museum Commission related to the preservation of certain artifacts from the 115-year-old building. The Game Commission is requiring demolition to proceed in a way least disruptive to peregrine falcons that nest nearby on the Market Street Bridge, McLaughlin said.
Additional care is required because a primary city-owned sewer system runs under the road near the Sterling. Also, the basement walls must be maintained and braced because they serve as retaining walls that support River and Market streets. And implosion may not be an option because intense vibration could jeopardize the structural integrity of nearby century-old buildings.
McLaughlin said HUD made sure the city had satisfied all state agency requirements and addressed all state agency concerns before the federal agency would release the CDBG funding.
He said representatives of state agencies such as the Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Labor & Industry will attend a pre-bid conference that will be mandatory for bidding contractors. It will be held at the Hotel Sterling site sometime within the 20-day bid period on a date to be announced.
Contractors must submit a demolition plan that will satisfy all of the state requirements as well as those of city officials. Bid specifications will be available by the end of the week.
City officials expect the demolition will cost in the mid-hundreds of thousands of dollars range, and nowhere near an “extravagant” $1 million figure that had been mentioned more than a year ago, McLaughlin said.
The city solicited bids for the project last year, and the lowest received last June was $492,729. McLaughlin said the city must re-solicit bids because a funding source changed. Last year, Luzerne County was expected to kick in about $232,000 but backed out after county officials couldn’t reach an agreement on liability with the building owner.
CityVest, the nonprofit owner, is out of money and spent most of a $6 million county community development loan to expand the parcel, tear down an attached high-rise and remove hazardous materials from the original hotel. CityVest now plans to dissolve, according to a legal notice published in April.
The Commonwealth Financing Authority in 2010 approved $290,000 in gaming funds toward rehabbing the building for use as a commercial and retail center. The authority more recently approved using most of that allocation for demolition instead.
McLaughlin said there have been some modifications to the bid specifications since they were released last year, but he doesn’t expect any significant increase in the overall cost of the project. Any project cost increase would probably be due to an increase in the area’s prevailing wage, he said.