Two developers eyeing former Sterling Hotel land

i Feb 6th 2018

By Steve Mocarsky, Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice

WILKES-BARRE — The City of Wilkes-Barre has received two development proposals for the former Hotel Sterling property.

One of the proposals comes from Gateway Center Associates, 24 W. Market St., which is the former Wyoming National Bank building, according to city Administrator Ted Wampole.

The West Market Street building is owned by Sam Syla, who opened the new Vault Grill and Bar there this past summer along with Genc Gashi and Cafe Toscana owners Marcello and Bruno Ahmeti.

Syla bought the building in 2014 for $285,000 and invested more than $2 million in private funds renovating it. He has leased 33 high-end apartments on the upper floors.

Syla was unavailable for comment Friday, according to a Vault employee.

Syla has previously said he believes another hotel would suit the needs of downtown.

The sale of the Ramada Inn on Public Square to King’s College in 2013 for student housing and programs left Best Western Genetti Hotel and Conference Center on East Market Street as the only hotel remaining downtown. When Syla had visited Wilkes-Barre before investing, the only hotel room he could get was off of Interstate 81, he had said.

A plan to build a $28 million high-rise hotel and conference center at South Main and Northampton streets that was announced more than two years ago seems to have stalled pending acquisition of one parcel of property.

The other proposal for the Sterling site comes from a Florida company — McClure Associates, Wampole said. No information was immediately available about McClure.

Wampole said he is inviting some downtown business representatives from the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce and the Diamond City Partnership to sit on a committee to review the proposals, which are not being made public.

Mayor Tony George will choose one of the developers after taking recommendations into consideration and then ask city council to vote on a sale of the property.

The site is located in a Keystone Opportunity Zone, making it tax-exempt until 2024.

The city advertised for development proposals in December after a previous advertisement proved unfruitful.

The city took ownership of the Sterling site, which consists of three parcels amounting to almost four acres on the corner of West Market and North River streets, in June 2015.

The city, which held a $570,000 lien on the site for the cost of the demolition of the hotel and other expenses, will give any sale profits beyond the amount of the lien to Luzerne County so the county can start recouping expenses from a botched attempt to redevelop the site.

The Sterling building and property was previously owned by the now-defunct CityVest, a community development firm that bought the site in 2002 with $6 million in federal funding through a county loan.

The effort was intended to preserve the iconic structure, but when CityVest announced it was going to dissolve in 2013, the dilapidated hotel that had been standing since 1897 was razed.

In January 2017, Berkshire Hathaway GUARD Insurance Group signed a non-binding letter of intent with the city to explore buying the site and using it to expand operations, but the company ultimately decided to relocate all of its Wilkes-Barre offices to the Wilkes-Barre Center building on Public Square instead.