Last updated: February 19. 2013 1:15AM - 76 Views

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THE SKYLINE OF downtown Wilkes-Barre might be drastically reshaped soon, depending on how officials choose to handle two hulking, empty buildings: the former Hotel Sterling and the Irem Temple.

If you care what becomes of these structures, get involved.

If you prefer to see them reduced to rubble and replaced with more contemporary buildings, say so. If you're ardent about the preservation and reuse of old structures, speak up.

During a public meeting tonight, part of which will be devoted to discussion about the Sterling's fate, area residents can voice their varied views: save the whole marvelous thing, save only its lower floors or stop pouring taxpayer dollars into this money pit already and bring in a wrecking ball. Those who favor the latter strategy also should consider whether, during demolition, some building materials can be recovered to recoup the millions in public money sunk into this Market Street structure when it supposedly was mothballed.

Luzerne County Council members soon must decide whether they will support demolition of the Sterling, which the city condemned after last September's flooding. The building's nonprofit owner, CityVest, is broke. Indebted to the county to the tune of about $6 million, CityVest's directors last year asked county officials to decide what becomes of the place.

Also vacant, but presumably not in as dire a situation, the Irem Temple on North Franklin Street awaits restoration as a cultural site and performance venue. The Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry owns the mosque-like building but lacks the cash to make it compliant with codes. Even the basics, such as electrical and heating upgrades, would easily top $3 million.

The Irem's advocates say stay tuned for details about an upcoming capital campaign to raise money for the temple's makeover.

Your response to the still-emerging plans for these two buildings in Wilkes-Barre's heart will largely determine what people will see there – or not see – for generations.

Be heard now.

Building consensus

Discussion on the Hotel Sterling is expected during a work session at 6 tonight at the county's Emergency Management Agency building, 185 Water St., Wilkes-Barre.

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