WILKES-BARRE —Mayor Tom Leighton called it “a historic day” for the city, but also “a sad day” for the community.
As workers from Brdaric Construction Co. began to dismantle the former Hotel Sterling, Leighton talked about the future and the potential for the historic site located at a gateway to the city’s downtown.
The mayor said he has heard from potential developers, but he declined to go further, saying it was premature to discuss what might happen once the building is down and the site cleared.
State Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, called the site “the most valuable real estate in Luzerne County.” He said he’s confident the city will find a quality developer.
“Today, we say goodbye to a historic landmark that was a cornerstone of the Diamond City for decades,” Leighton said as workers dismantled the 115-year-old building. “Everyone has a Hotel Sterling story. Some people were married here, some went to a prom here and some people lived and worked here.”
Leighton talked of his personal attachment to the Sterling — his family’s real estate offices were housed there for decades.
“This building is as much a part of my family’s story here in the city as every other resident,” he said. “We must fondly remember this building’s past, but now we have to move forward for the good of this community.”
Leighton said that over the years there were many “well-intentioned attempts” to preserve and salvage the building. “For many reasons, including a severe economic recession that we are still grappling with, those attempts were unsuccessful,” he said.
The three-term mayor said the city and the region should “look upon this as a unique generational opportunity.” He said not many people are given the chance to design and construct a building that will stand for the next 100 years and be a catalyst for economic and recreational development.
“Everyone gathered here today is committed to making this project succeed for the good of us all,” Leighton said. “Whatever building that rises from this site will be respectful of the history of the Hotel Sterling and be in keeping with the integrity of the entire River Street Historic District.”
The new development, he said, will take time, patience, creativity and dedication to achieve the desired ends.
“There’s a $30 million riverfront park (River Common) across the street,” Pashinski said. “The potential for development is endless. We have to assure that we find the best option out there.”
Legal battle pending
Leighton said CityVest, a nonprofit corporation, still owns the property, and the city will have to engage in a legal battle to secure it. The mayor wouldn’t discuss details, but indicated that liens will be filed with foreclosure probably being the city’s best option. The Sterling had been vacant since 1998.
The building suffered severe damage when the Susquehanna River rose to never-before-seen level in September 2011 and although the levee system held, considerable water seeped into it and caused severe structural damage.
The city then condemned the site and set up traffic detours to protect motorists and pedestrians.