WILKES-BARRE — Plans are underway to renovate the century-old Sterling Annex for residential units as a proposed $35 million, mixed-use project advances at the former Hotel Sterling site next door, according to property representatives.
The four-story annex on River Street, once used as an ancillary ballroom and meeting space for the hotel, has been vacant since proposals to turn it into a college art museum or art gallery fizzled in the early 1990s. The structure’s boarded-up windows and deteriorating state stood out more since the condemned landmark hotel was demolished in 2013.
G2A-B Realty LLC, owned by George Asimakopoulos, bought the annex from the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry for $215,000 in 2012, but its development plans were hampered by a dispute over delinquent real estate taxes and a lack of parking.
Both of those issues are nearing resolution, the representatives say.
Realtor Steve M. Barrouk, of City Brokers Real Estate in Wilkes-Barre, said G2A-B has a pending sales agreement with an undisclosed party that is subject to city zoning approval. Barrouk said Asimakopoulos will announce specific details as they are finalized.
The prospective annex owner has been negotiating a plan with the Hotel Sterling site developer to provide parking for annex tenants, Barrouk said. The city signed a $600,000 agreement last month to sell the former hotel site to a developer planning a hotel and conference center and condominiums.
Barrouk said the new annex developer intends to preserve the structure’s facade.
“I think there is a willingness to cooperate to get this project done. It will be a beautiful project for the city,” Barrouk said.
The nearly 30,000-square-foot annex has three full floors and a mezzanine on the fourth floor. Most of the interior has been gutted. It sits on 0.21 acres and was originally built in 1912 as an Elks lodge.
A recent court ruling addressed the tax issue, said G2A-B’s Kingston attorney, Brian P. Stahl.
According to court records:
G2A-B argued it did not receive required notice from the county assessor’s office when the property’s status was changed from tax-exempt to taxable around the time the company purchased it in May 2012. This notice would have triggered the new owner’s right to immediately challenge the property’s inherited $1.62 million assessment.
The company filed an assessment challenge that reduced the property value to $250,000, but this change did not kick in until 2013.
In a court action filed last September, G2A-B said the 2012 assessment should be lowered due to “negligence on the part of administrative officials” in failing to make the owner aware of the taxation change.
After a hearing last month, a county judge issued an order May 14 reducing the 2012 assessment to $250,000 and clearing the applicable delinquency from G2A-B’s debt that year.
That leaves G2A-B on the hook for $82,039 in delinquent taxes owed from 2013 through 2017, county tax claim records show.
The company’s court filings said G2A-B will promptly pay all outstanding real estate taxes when the 2012 matter is corrected. Stahl confirmed Tuesday that all taxing bodies will be paid in full.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.