Last updated: February 20. 2013 4:02AM - 797 Views

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WILKES-BARRE – The city on Monday filed a municipal lien against CityVest seeking $76,148 for expenses the city has incurred to abate unsafe conditions at the Hotel Sterling complex.

The lien covers costs incurred in the past two years as city officials worked to find money to demolish the structure. An additional lien will be filed later for the demolition costs, which are expected to be about $450,000, assistant city solicitor William Vinsko said.

We wanted to make sure we preserved all the city's rights because taxpayer money is being used, Vinsko said. If the property is ever sold, the city will be paid. We can also foreclose on (the lien) if we need to do that.

The lien seeks to recover $50,145 paid to Protection Services Inc. for the rental of barricades that surround the dilapidated structure on West Market and North River streets. It also seeks $11,245 spent on engineering and safety inspections and $14,758 paid to Pennoni Associates for the development of traffic-detour routes.

The barricades, which cost roughly $4,500 per month, cover the period from April 2010 to November 2012. An additional lien will be filed to cover the continued rental costs, Vinsko said.

The city continues to work with state and federal agencies to gain approval to tear down the structure, but that's likely still several months away, said Drew McLaughlin, administrative coordinator.

The demolition will be paid for with $232,729 from Luzerne County and $260,000 the city has committed from its local share of gambling funds.

CityVest, a non-profit organization, spent at least $7 million in government money to preserve the historic structure, but it failed to attract any developers. The organization asked the county to take control of the project in April 2011, saying it was out of money.

Collecting on the lien may prove a challenge, given CityVest has no money. McLaughlin said the lien opens up other possible legal avenues for the city to collect the money it's owed.

We need to protect the financial interests of the city taxpayers. Without filing the lien, there is zero chance we will recover the money, McLaughlin said.

A federal grand jury began an investigation of the revitalization project in December 2011. The status of the investigation is not known as grand jury hearings are not open to the public.

Alex Rogers, executive director of CityVest, and Judd Shoval, chairman of its board of directors, did not respond to phone messages Monday seeking comment on the city's filing.

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