WILKES-BARRE – The Hotel Sterling demolition appears to be at a stalemate unless its nonprofit owner budges.
Luzerne County Manager Robert Lawton said Thursday he has received no communication from CityVest, owner of the downtown Wilkes-Barre structure, since county council voted Tuesday to reject the nonprofit's demand for a special liability release.
CityVest told the county it won't sign a three-party demolition agreement with the county and Wilkes-Barre without the release. Lawton and county council said they can't give up the right to pursue future claims or actions against the nonprofit because they have no idea what problems or issues could arise.
CityVest representatives could not be reached for comment on several attempts since Tuesday.
Mayor Tom Leighton said the city and county should proceed with their own two-party agreement and demolish the building with their combined funds – $232,729 from the county and $260,000 from the city.
Foreclosure action could be filed against CityVest by the city or county to gain title to the cleared lot after demolition, Leighton said.
CityVest and the county are never going to agree on that liability release, and this building needs to come down, he said.
Lawton said he and council are requiring CityVest's sign-off on the demolition agreement because the document ensures the county will receive the property title to the cleared lot.
The three-way agreement is a way to resolve those issues without spending the time and money on adjudication, Lawton said.
The city is free to come up with $232,729 and proceed with demolition on its own, Lawton said.
It's absolutely their legal right because they condemned the structure, Lawton said.
County Council Chairman Tim McGinley said council is offering CityVest the opportunity to take care of the situation it's in.
CityVest didn't restore the former hotel at the corner of River and Market streets as promised, and the nonprofit sought government intervention after using up its $6 million county loan on consultants, enlarging the parcel and tearing down another structure on the 4-acre lot.
The county has to protect itself. Hopefully, we can reach some good conclusion, but right now I'm not so sure, McGinley said.
Leighton said he's in limbo because the city needs the county funding. He believes the weight of ice and snow this winter will further cave in the remaining roof, causing large pieces of the building to fall off.
He said the city was willing to forego any claims on recouping the $5,000 monthly cost of traffic barriers and to assume the responsibility of demolition in the three-party agreement.
My staff has put a lot of time in this, and it's a disappointment they're not moving forward, Leighton said.