Now that the Hotel Sterling has become, in the words of Bruce Springsteen, “Empty Sky,” it’s time for political, business and civic leaders to end the silence on what comes next.
The lack of real discussion so far has been discouraging at best. It’s certainly understandable that the future of the prime lot would take a back seat while demolition was arranged and executed, but considering the prominence of the locale, the silence has been deafening.
And if power brokers and decision makers don’t start offering proposals soon, the silence will start to sound downright conspiratorial. The longer there is no public discussion about what replaces the Sterling, the more the public will suspect all the talking is going on behind closed doors.
Plenty of possibilities have been tossed out in recent weeks, usually by average citizens with no real say in the final decision. You’ve probably heard them at bars or park benches, you may have offered one yourself.
A public park, another hotel, a retail center (at least on the ground floor), a visitors center, a museum including homage to the lost hotel … Anything, most agree, except a parking lot or garage.
Yet we hear nothing from those who may have serious sway. Nothing from Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton or city council, nothing from the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry, nothing from prominent business people who may have a professional stake in what rises from the rubble (like Gus Genetti or Judd Shoval), nothing from the leaders of King’s College or Wilkes University - two institutions that bookend the site and have been successful proponents of urban renewal of other lots near their campuses.
While the ultimate answer to “what replaces the Sterling?” may rest in a private developer’s hands, this is far too prominent a location to develop without public debate. It remains both a key gateway to the city and a part of a postcard view from the iconic Market Street Bridge.
Ideas should be floated, input should be sought, options both conventional and fanciful should be explored, expert insight should be solicited.
The plans must not be fashioned in silence and presented as a fait accompli to the public.
So what happens now?