YES, THE HOTEL Sterling debacle leaves a very sour taste in the mouth when speaking of historic preservation by local government. But it’s essential the public does not let that colossal failure (more than $6 million spent without clear accounting and it’s still being torn down) lead to the loss of other architectural and historic jewels.
Quite the contrary, the Sterling’s demise should spur greater public effort to spare two other Wilkes-Barre landmarks now threatened: The Irem Temple on Franklin Street and the former train station at the corner of Market Street and Wilkes-Barre Boulevard.
In fact, while the Sterling had great historical and sentimental value with an eloquent interior that should have been saved, it is, externally, underwhelming when compared to the temple and the station, both of which add considerable visual flourish to the city.
Of the two, the station seems both the most threatened, thanks to ease of access by thoughtless thugs stealing metal for sale as scrap, and cheapest to save. As Hotelier Gus Genetti pointed out in a Times Leader story on page 1A Saturday, at the very least it should be securely mothballed to prevent any further deterioration or destruction until clear development plans and funding are found.
The station’s current owner, the Luzerne County Redevelopment Authority, is seeking private developers, but can’t even muster enough money for an updated commercial appraisal of the building and a nearby strip mall. And as if to echo the Sterling tragedy, the authority still owes the county $1.8 million used to buy up nearby rail track more than a decade ago.
It is time for businesses and individual to rise to the occasion. Genetti’s proposal — that municipal officials band together and seek funding via the state’s casino revenue program — seems one sensible and doable plan.
There are other precedents for a successful preservation and restoration. Think Al Boscov and the F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre, or the private/public partnership that saved the former Hazleton Area High School (“The Castle”) and converted the auditorium into the Wiltsie Center for performing arts.
Smaller municipalities have successfully saved similar structures — Jim Thorpe and Tamaqua, for example. Surely such a project is not beyond the will and skill of our community.
If we cannot preserve such a prominent and picturesque piece of our past, what does that say of our future?