Last updated: February 19. 2013 10:18PM - 355 Views

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MAYOR TOM LEIGHTON appears to be the lone adult among elected officials in Luzerne County council's dangerous game of chicken with the City of Wilkes-Barre over the urgent need to demolish the Hotel Sterling.

After months of wrangling, the county council finally agreed to contribute $232,729 toward the hotel's demolition while the city will pay $260,000 to meet the low bid of $492,729 for demolition.

Last month I sat through an entire Luzerne County council meeting televised live (like sticking pins in my eyes) waiting for that august body to discuss the Sterling's demise. Needless to say, that most important topic affecting the safety and welfare of pedestrians and motorists at the intersection of River and West Market streets in downtown Wilkes-Barre was held to the end -- the bitter end.

When the Sterling's fate was finally considered, our crack county council attached a poison pill to the document preventing the volunteer members of CityVest, the nonprofit owner of the hotel building and grounds, from agreeing to sign off.

CityVest had been given $6 million by the county to facilitate its work and nationally market the Sterling property. There were no takers.

The nonprofit carefully demolished the adjacent Sterling tower, floor by floor, and a few structures nearby, at an estimated cost of $3.3 million. Still, no takers.

To make the property even more attractive to potential developers, it took steps to enlarge the parcel's footprint at a cost of more than $1 million. They even removed asbestos, hazardous materials and performed other environmental remediation inside the Sterling. No takers.

But those actions taken, had they not been done, would certainly be necessary today as part of any plan to ultimately level, clear and market the Sterling site. Pay it then (cheaper) or pay it now (more costly), it all had to come down.

From what I can decipher, these citizen volunteers (unpaid), who were asked to serve on a nonprofit (no money) -- called CityVest, were given an impossible task, supported by everyone, to save the Hotel Sterling. And now, they do not mind turning it all over as long as they have no further responsibilities. Seems prudent to me.

However, our crack county council does not want to give up the right to pursue future claims (sue) against the nonprofit (no money) because they have no idea what problems might occur.


So, the dilapidated hotel still stands. It is rapidly deteriorating and in imminent risk of injuring someone; another sad testament to leaderless, county government.

Mayor Leighton says the city is in limbo because it needs the county council's share for demolition. As he searches for other city money to bring the building down, Leighton believes the weight of winter's snow will cave the roof, causing large pieces of the building to fall to the sidewalks below.

What's the response from county council?

Let it snow. Let it snow. Let it fall.

Oh the Sterling its sight is frightful

But the county's so unmindful

And since they're not on the ball

Let it snow. Let it snow. Let it fall.

It doesn't show signs of stopping

They've caught 12 rivets-a-popping

The county just wants to stall

Let it snow. Let it snow. Let it fall.

When a-chunk finally hits the street

How we'll hate all the harm that it does

But the county can't escape the heat

All their prime duty, it was.

The Lady she's slowly sliding

And, the county is still in hiding

But as long as they have the mall

Let it snow. Let it snow. Let it fall.

Frankly, ladies and gentlemen of the council, many of us expected better.

Kevin Blaum's column about government, life and politics is published every Sunday. Contact him at kblaum@timesleader.com

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