WILKES-BARRE — The city moved a step closer to requesting the use of hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funds for the demolition of the vacant Hotel Sterling.
The request, to be made by April 22, follows a finding that the demolition “will have no significant impact on the human environment,” according to a legal advertisement printed in area newspapers, including The Times Leader, on Wednesday.
As a result of the determination, a request will be sent to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for approval of the use of Community Development Block Grant funds budgeted to the city for removal of blighted properties.
Drew McLaughlin, administrative coordinator for the city, said a previous environmental study was updated and determined there “were no substantive environmental issues that need to be abated.”
The publication of the legal ad began a 30-day public comment period on the plans to bring down the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“I would anticipate public comments probably in the same vein we’ve heard for years,” McLaughlin said, adding they’re not likely to rise to the level to overturn the reports of two independent structural engineers “that the building is unsafe and should come down.”
Previously prepared environmental review records can be reviewed at the Office of Economic and Community Development at City Hall and used as the basis for comments that can be submitted to the office. Comments received by April 19 will be considered by the city before it makes its request for HUD funds. HUD will allow another 15-day comment period before deciding on the city’s request.
The city already committed $260,000 toward the demolition and was counting on another $232,729 from Luzerne County to cover the costs of the previous low bid from last year. McLaughlin estimated the work will cost between $450,000 and $500,000.
“We’re going to put it to bid again,” he said.
The city, citing public safety and financial reasons, has been working for months to obtain HUD approval and proceed independently of the county and the property’s nonprofit owner, CityVest, to raze the building after at least $7 million in government funding was spent on the site once eyed for development.
The demolition of the downtown building that’s been vacant since 1998 has been on hold while the county and CityVest have been at odds over the owner’s insistence that it be released from legal claims that could arise from the project.