Except for Hotel Sterling, work on downtown projects progressing

i Dec 30th 2015

By Jerry Lynott, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader

WILKES-BARRE — Two out of three downtown development projects are progressing, while the city is back to square one with the third.

The proposed high-end grocery store and cafe on Public Square should be open in the spring of 2016. The city is in the process of selling city-owned property to the developer of the $28 million hotel and conference center planned for the corner of South Main and West Northampton streets. But the former Hotel Sterling site is still available.

Chris Cawley, president of CMCafe SMain Inc. which has the liquor license for the grocery store and cafe, said he’s shooting for either an April or May opening.

“We’re going through all the necessary approvals,” Cawley said Wednesday.

City council approved the transfer of the license earlier this year for the business to be located in the 4,500-square-foot space that had been home to the Arts Seen Gallery. The store and cafe will have a deli, seating for 50 people and offer fresh and prepared foods and sell beer.

The store and cafe was welcomed as a much-needed addition to the downtown that’s experiencing a boom in residential development.

Apartments and condominiums will be part of the 10-story hotel and conference center that was announced in October. A consortium of global developers are behind the privately financed project.

Council also had a say in the development and approved the sale of city-owned property for $500,000 to Sphere International Corp., based Mumbai, India. Two other privately-owned properties make up the site of the project.

Greg Barrouk, city administrator, said the final sales agreement was signed earlier this week. He anticipated closing on the sale next year.

The hotel and conference center will be similar to the mixed-use project made up of WB Movies 14, loft apartments and ground-level retail and commercial space located across South Main Street.

What to do with the former Hotel Sterling site is still to be determined.

The city received one proposal from a developer in August, but it did not go through the review process. “They withdrew shorty after submitting it,” Barrouk said.

The former landmark structure on the corner of West Market and North River streets was demolished in 2013 after a failed attempt at development by the nonprofit CityVest corporation. The city declared the vacant structure a hazard and placed traffic barriers on the streets around it to protect pedestrians and motorists from harm from falling debris.

The city eventually acquired ownership of the three parcels that make up the site. Should it sell the land, the city can keep $570,000 it used to pay for the demolition and other related expenses. Luzerne County would obtain the remainder of the sale proceeds as part of an agreement to recover some of the $6 million Community Development loan that CityVest defaulted on.

“Conversations are still occurring with developers,” Barrouk said, although there is no formal request for proposals in place. The availability of the site has spread by word of mouth, he said.

No announcement on the property is expected by Monday, when Mayor Tom Leighton’s third-term ends and mayor-elect Tony George is sworn in, Barrouk said.

He said he was optimistic that “the city will be able to make an announcement in the next year.”