Downtown Wilkes-Barre high-rise hotels still a go, start dates still up in the air

i Sep 30th 2018

By Jerry Lynott, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader

WILKES-BARRE — Two downtown hotel projects remain on the drawing boards, but time will tell which one will be built first.

Sphere International LLC has proposed its project for the corner of West Northampton and South Main streets. A few blocks away, Gateway Center Associates selected the former Hotel Sterling site at West Market and North River streets.

Both are multi-million dollar mixed-use developments to include hotels, rental units and office and retail space. The developers also expect to change the city’s skyline with their high-rises.

But the time frames are uncertain.

Attorney John Dean, who represents the principals in the Sphere International project, said demolition permits are going to be taken out with the city sometime this month. The developers were still in the process of hiring a contractor, he said.

One thing is for certain, however. The Place 1 at the Hollywood, located in the midst of the site, will remain. Michaelene Coffee, whose mother Barbara, owns the building, had said the developer was no longer interested in buying it.

“We’re building around the Coffee property,” Dean said Friday.

The project hasn’t changed in scope. It’s still a 10-story high-rise that was estimated to cost $28 million when it was announced in October 2015.

Sphere, which listed a Flemington, N.J. address in court document, had purchased surrounding properties from the city and the owner of the former Frank Clark Jewelers building. According to documents filed with the Luzerne County Recorder of Deeds in 2016, Sphere bought the city parcels for $500,000 and paid Ken Pollock Inc. $265,000 for the Frank Clark Jewelers property.

Sterling lot

The Sterling lot project has an estimated cost of $35 million. H&N Investments LLC a Wilkes-Barre company associated with developer Hysni “Sam” Syla, purchased the lot from the city for $600,000.

Pending construction of the project the site is being used for parking and it’s the focus of a suit filed by the Wilkes-Barre Parking Authority that alleges the parking lot is in violation of city zoning ordinances. The suit asks that the court issue preliminary and permanent injunctions to prevent the lot from being used for parking.

H&N Investments withdrew its application before the Wilkes-Barre Zoning Hearing Board for a variance to operate a temporary parking. During the board’s hearing on Sept. 19, George Albert, a consulting engineer on the Sterling project, said he could provide a date when construction would begin.

“We don’t know how long it’s going to take us to get to the breaking of ground,” Albert told the board.

The agreement of sale between H&N Investments and the city set a 24-month deadline from the date of sale for the developer to receive approvals from the city’s Planning Commission and Zoning Hearing Board. If the deadline passes, the city can exercise its right to repurchase the property. If the deadline is met and another 24 months pass without the project being completed, the also can repurchase the property.

The city included a four-year reverter clause in the deal with Sphere International as well.