WILKES-BARRE — At $419,000, Brdaric Construction Co. of Luzerne is the apparent low bidder for the demolition contract to put the wrecking ball to the historic and condemned Hotel Sterling.
Brdaric was the lowest of 14 bids opened Tuesday morning in Council Chambers at City Hall to take down the former hotel that opened in 1898. The top bid came in at about $1.2 million.
Butch Frati, the city’s director of operations, said it will take a couple of weeks to certify the bid and demolition could begin within four weeks.
“All you have to do is walk through it and you will see why it has to come down,” said John Brdaric, owner of the company.
It will take about 30 days to demolish the building and another month to remove the debris, he said.
The building is located at the corner of West Market and North River streets.
Brdaric said demolition will proceed deliberately for two reasons: Peregrine falcons that nest under the Market Street Bridge and removal of all historic items remaining in the building.
Because the birds are on the state’s endangered list, Brdaric will have to take measures to ensure their safety until the demolition is completed. The falcons come under the protection of the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The falcons use the Sterling as a perch to look for prey.
Sally Healey and Fred George, both of Wilkes-Barre, were part of the Save Our Sterling group that fought to preserve the building. They and several others stood outside the condemned building for months with signs urging the city not to demolish it and to rally public support for their cause.
“All of us who worked on saving it wish those in power could have done something to save it,” Healey said. “So much time was wasted and nothing was done.”
She said she hopes the historic train station and Irem Temple mosque, both also in downtown Wilkes-Barre, survive the wrecking ball.
“In 2004, there was press conference in the Sterling lobby and it gave us hope,” she said. “All they had to do is mothball it and wait for a developer. This makes me so sad; another beautiful landmark will be lost forever.”
George, 81, worked at the Sterling for 22 years and became head chef in the 1960s. He said the Sterling is part of Luzerne County’s proud history.
“Shame on them,” he said. “I’m still mad about it. I’ll die mad about this.”
George remembers stately dinners at the hotel held in rooms named for Wilkes-Barre natives like Gen. John Sullivan and Adm. Harold Stark. He said overflow crowds with elegantly dressed patrons were a familiar scene.
“We tried and we tried and we tried,” George said of the effort to save the building. “We stood out there protesting day after day. Words really can’t describe it — it had elegance — a magical feel about it.”
Stark recalled the barber shop, shoe shine chairs, bell hops, porters and the mezzanine that overlooked the chandeliered lobby.
“It was a small Waldorf Astoria right here in Wilkes-Barre,” he said.
The property’s nonprofit owner — CityVest — recently published a legal notice of its plans to dissolve. Luzerne County officials say CityVest, which has an outstanding $6 million county community development loan on the property, never informed them of its plan to shut down.
In April, County Manager Robert Lawton said the outstanding loan is officially recorded as a lien that will remain attached to the property if CityVest walks away, but he will research the matter to determine if further legal steps are required to protect the county.
Wilkes-Barre also will be owed money for demolition. The city is handling the tear-down because city officials condemned the property and CityVest representatives said they were out of funds.
City officials have said they plan to take over ownership of the property after demolition. If that happens, the city likely will be first in line to recoup its lien if the property is sold to a developer. The county would receive any remaining funding.
County officials also confirmed a federal grand jury was investigating CityVest, but the status of that inquiry is unknown.
CityVest spent the $6 million in county community development funding on consultants, enlarging the parcel and tearing down another structure on the 4-acre lot. The former hotel has been vacant since 1998.
The city is creating a permanent display about the once-glorious hotel. A glass display case will be on the first floor of City Hall and will contain photographs, postcards, news articles and other historically significant items of the Sterling for public display until the building is demolished and a new development is completed.
At that time, the case will be transferred to the site of the former building within the new development as a condition of the city’s agreement with the Pennsylvania Historic Commission.