Wilkes-Barre believes it can sell former Sterling site if Guard passes

i Oct 13th 2017

By Jerry Lynott, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader

WILKES-BARRE — If the former Hotel Sterling site is no longer in play as the location for the new headquarters of Berkshire Hathaway Guard Insurance, the city said it has others interested in the property.

City Administrator Ted Wampole said he’s still waiting to hear from Berkshire Hathaway Guard about its plans before issuing a new round of requests for proposals for the land at the intersection of West Market and North River streets.

“They keep saying they’re doing all of their due diligence on all their options,” Wampole said Friday.

But if the company owned by a subsidiary of billionaire investor Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. passes on the city-owned site, someone else will make an offer, Wampole said

“We’ve had enough serious interest from people over the last six months that it will be sold,” he explained.

There have been multiple inquiries locally and from out of the area, Wampole said, and because of that the city would “open up the RFP” process again.

“It’s not going to be a gas station. It’s not going to be a parking lot,” he said.

The property, made up of multiple parcels, has been used as a parking lot since the city condemned and demolished the former hotel in 2013. The land is designated as a state Keystone Opportunity Zone that provides tax breaks until 2024.

“We’re extremely optimistic that the property will be out of city hands in 2018,” Wampole said.

The former Hotel Sterling site and the Wilkes-Barre Center office building on Public Square have been under consideration by Berkshire Hathaway Guard as possible locations to consolidate offices and bring hundreds of jobs to the city. The company has been searching in other states as well, and the city has sweetened its offer with a $1 million state grant.

“While we are not in a position to offer further comment at this time, we are aware of your interest and will keep you posted once we have news to report,” Bob Thomas, a Berkshire Hathaway Guard spokesman, said in an email Friday.

A message left with Philip Balderston, founder and CEO of Philadelphia-based Odin Properties LLC, owner of the Wilkes-Barre Center, was not returned Friday.

In April, Balderston confirmed he was in discussions with Berkshire Hathaway Guard about moving into the largely vacant high-rise Wilkes-Barre Center.

In January, the city disclosed its discussions with Berkshire Hathaway Guard and said the company signed a letter of intent for the former Sterling site across the street from its existing office building.

The city secured a $1 million state Local Share Account grant funded by gambling revenues from the Mohegan Sun Pocono casino in Plains Township to assist with the company’s expansion. The city acts as the pass-through municipality for the funding and does not receive the money directly.

The gambling money could still be used if the company chooses an another city location other than the former hotel site, said Wampole. “We would look at having it redirected for Guard,” he said.