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No sign on Hotel Sterling lot not helping to sell prime downtown real estate

i Sep 7th 2016

By Jerry Lynott, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader

WILKES-BARRE — Without a “For Sale” sign in sight on the dirt lot where the former Hotel Sterling stood, city officials are still waiting for someone to develop the site three years after the condemned landmark building was demolished.

The property, made up of three parcels at the corner of West Market and North River streets, generates interest on its own, said Ted Wampole, city administrator.

“We’re not aggressively marketing it,” Wampole said Tuesday.A request for proposals prepared last year by the administration of former Mayor Tom Leighton is available for anyone who asks, Wampole said. Calls come in about once every other week since the transition to Mayor Tony George in January, but so far no one’s committed to building on the nearly 2-acre site zoned central commercial.

“We get proposals,” Wampole said, but they have to meet the goals and objectives listed in the RFP (Request for Proposals).Those goals and objectives were put in place to ensure a convenience store or gas station would not occupy the space, he said.

The RFP lists key points for the developer

:• Leverage the site’s strength

• Strengthen the emergence of an 18-hour downtown

• Respect the site’s context

• Reinforce the walkable downtown

The low-key marketing approach has drawn occasional calls from developers and a basic lesson on how to sell the prime real estate at Wilkes-Barre’s western gateway.

John Cognetti, president of Hinerfeld Commercial Real Estate in Scranton, knows the history of the attempt by CityVest to prepare the property for development. The location is a plus, but a simple enhancement can bring more calls into City Hall, he said.

“The best thing the city could do would be to put a sign on the property that it’s available and who to contact,” Cognetti said Wednesday.It makes sense to advertise it, especially with so many vehicles traveling through the high-traffic intersection, Cognetti explained. “A sign is 24/7,” he said. Who knows who passes by that spot; it could be developer, a relative or a friend of one, Cognetti added. “If they see that it’s available, you don’t know what that could spark.”

If a sign goes up and interest grows, Cognetti offered advice on how to deal with that interest. “Assign that job to one person in the administration to handle those calls or hire a broker,” he said.

The city’s 2016 general fund budget contains a $1 million revenue line item for the sale of city-owned property. As of the end of July, the city collected just $225,212 of the total.

The sale would add $570,000 to the budget, equal to the amount the city paid for expenses that mounted after taking steps to protect the public after the building was declared a safety hazard and for the 2013 demolition. Luzerne County, which transferred ownership of the parcels to the city, would receive the remainder of the sale proceeds under an agreement to recover some of the $6 million Community Development loan defaulted on by CityVest. Wampole estimated the land is appraised at $1.6 million.