LEST ANYONE forget – especially Wilkes-Barre City Mayor and council members – the Hotel Sterling is not and never was a Luzerne County government problem.
The troubled – and at this point, almost certainly doomed – landmark is not owned by the county. Strictly speaking, the county had no dog in the fight to preserve the Sterling until prior commissioners opted to loan $6 million to CityVest, the nonprofit "developer of last resort" that took control of the venerable hotel in hopes of saving it.
That money apparently went toward site development – acquiring additional property and razing newer parts of the Sterling – while the oldest section of the hotel rotted from exposure to the elements, courtesy of a leaky roof.
The wisdom of allowing the most historic part of the property to decay while focusing on newer and more generic aspects of the hotel is questionable, but it's not the point here.
Wilkes-Barre has decided the Sterling is a hazard and must be razed. Evidence presented so far suggests that is, sadly, the right path, but the wisdom of that decision is also not the point here.
The threat exists that CityVest will declare bankruptcy if the county does not assume control of the project and fork over $1 million for demolition. Again, CityVest's financial health is not the point.
The question before the newly seated county council and newly appointed County Manager Robert Lawton is whether or not to fulfill the $1 million offer made by County Commissioners last year, one of the last acts of an old form of government replaced when voters approved switching to the county council system.
The Sterling should have been saved. It wasn't. The county's $6 million loan should have resolved this issue. It didn't.
Pouring another million – possibly more – into the Hotel Sterling property may be the right thing for Luzerne County to do. But with acute budget shortfalls sill unresolved, County Council needs to take a cold, hard look at any further investment in this project.
This is first and foremost a city issue, and County Council needs to keep that in mind.
Hotel Sterling is not and never was a Luzerne County government