Hotel Sterling site eyed for Guard Insurance expansion

i Jan 10th 2017

By Jerry Lynott, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader

WILKES-BARRE — The vacant Hotel Sterling property is being considered for the new headquarters of Berkshire Hathaway Guard Insurance, a city official said Tuesday.

The property, across West Market Street from Guard’s offices, is high on the list, said Ted Wampole, city administrator.

He disclosed the search of sites at city council’s work session.

As you know, they’re going through an expansion. They’re looking at certain sites in the city, especially the Sterling,” Wampole said.

The city is planning to submit an application to the state for $1 million to assist Guard with consolidating its offices in one location. Municipalities in Luzerne County apply for the funding and pass through a Local Share Account grant from revenues from the Mohegan Sun Pocono casino in Plains Township.

City council will be asked to approve a resolution at its public meeting Thursday authorizing the city to submit the application for the LSA grant.

Wampole told council Guard’s decision ultimately rests upon getting funding for the project and said the LSA grant would be a big help.

“It’s so important we keep them in the city right now. This is going to go a long way to help them make that decision,” Wampole said.

The National Indemnity Co., a subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., purchased Guard in 2013 from Israel-based Clal Insurance Enterprise Holdings for $221 million and the assumption of a $48 million bank-loan guarantee. Guard and its associated companies were founded in 1982 by Judd and Susan Shoval.

The expansion would add approximately 300 jobs to the more than 400 at Guard, Wampole said. Not only would the city benefit, so would students at King’s College and Wilkes University , he added.

“Keep in mind this will be their home office, their headquarters. It’s huge for the city,” Wampole said. “As far as the downtown, it’s going to be the premier place in downtown Wilkes-Barre.”

The city demolished the long vacant landmark structure in 2013 after declaring it a safety hazard. It took ownership of the property from Luzerne County that will be in line to receive some money from the sale of the property. The county provided a $6 million Community Development loan to the nonprofit CityVest that exhausted funds to prepare the building for development. The city spent close to $600,000 on demolition and public safety measures and would recoup that funding in a sale, leaving the rest of the proceeds for the county.