Hotel Sterling demo could change more than just the landscape

Last updated: July 31. 2013 12:49AM - 4767 Views
By - jandes@timesleader.com - (570) 991-6388

The Hotel Sterling on North River and West Market streets in Wilkes-Barre is reduced to rubble on Tuesday.
The Hotel Sterling on North River and West Market streets in Wilkes-Barre is reduced to rubble on Tuesday.
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WILKES-BARRE — Ali Kazimi’s arrival at work was memorable Tuesday because the seven-story Hotel Sterling next door was almost entirely demolished.

“It was strange. You can see the eagles on the Market Street Bridge from our property. We have a riverfront view,” said Kazimi, the third-generation owner of M. Abraham Importer on West Market, which opened by the once bustling Sterling in 1927.

Kazimi looks forward to losing that view to new development on the 4-acre Sterling parcel. City officials condemned and demolished the former hotel and plan to seize the cleared lot from its nonprofit owner, CityVest, so the site can be marketed and sold to a private developer.

Kazimi said he’s loyal to the block, as evidenced by his 2009 purchase and renovation of the former Lowe’s bar and restaurant next door, which now houses apartments and his expanded showroom of Oriental rugs and other flooring products.

He also owns another building on the block at the corner of West Market and North Franklin that was recently vacated by First National Community Bank’s relocation to Public Square, and he’s seeking a new tenant.

Kazimi pointed to a state estimate that 17,000 vehicles cross the Market Street Bridge daily as one reason a developer will want to invest in the Sterling site.

“We’re really very optimistic,” Kazimi said. “The new development that comes in will improve the entire block and focus attention on the entire block.”

Optimism strong

Linda Armstrong was setting up the new headquarters of Dress for Success in a former real estate office at 38 W. Market St., on Tuesday as demolition crews picked at the lingering Sterling carcass a stone’s throw away.

“From the shadows of destruction, we’re rebuilding,” said Armstrong, executive director of the organization, which provides clothing and training for women seeking employment and job advancement.

Volunteers have used donated supplies to convert the shabby offices into a professional place for women to learn new skills for an Aug. 13 grand opening, and Armstrong is confident officials will attract something impressive to the Sterling parcel.

“It’s going to be beautiful,” she said. “This block needs to be cleaned up, and we’re also helping to revitalize the city.”

A section of the West Market Street Sterling block is occupied by a hulking, vacant 45,000-square-foot building that once housed financial institutions and a post office.

Mericle Commercial Real Estate broker Steve M. Barrouk, who is trying to sell the century-old structure for owner 24 West Market WB LLC, said the Sterling demolition should make the property more attractive.

“The condition that existed at the Sterling has been a detriment to us trying to market our property. The building was blighted. There was uncertainty of what would happen, and the road was closed,” Barrouk said, referring to traffic barriers the city erected around the Sterling.

Parking issue raised

Barrouk wants a building constructed where the Sterling stands but also urges city officials to incorporate parking to support both the new construction and other existing buildings in the plan. Parking could be tucked at the rear of a new structure, he said.

“Parking still remains an issue for a lot of buildings over there. The building I represent has no parking, and every time I take someone into that building, the issue is parking,” he said.

G2A-B Realty LLC, a corporation owned by Bear Creek Village resident George Asimakapolous, also needs a commitment of parking to proceed with plans to renovate the four-story brick Hotel Sterling Annex into housing units, Barrouk said. G2A-B purchased the annex from the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry in May 2012.

Barrouk said the Sterling block has potential but will require collaborative municipal planning.

“That area is crying out for help. Hopefully, somebody will pay attention to it,” he said.

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