New Hotel/apartment Complex Planned For Sterling Site
WILKES-BARRE — A new hotel and apartment building with retail space is planned to fill the long-vacant downtown site of the former Hotel Sterling.
A presentation with details on the project by Gateway Center Associates is on city council’s Tuesday work session agenda.
Gateway Center, based in Wilkes-Barre, is one of two developers that responded after Mayor Tony George’s administration advertised requests for development proposals for the site in December. The other was The McClure Co., formerly based in New Castle, Pennsylvania, and now headquartered in St. Petersburg, Florida.
George said he is recommending that council sell the two-acre parcel to Gateway based on the recommendation of a committee that reviewed and scored the proposals.
“It was a unanimous decision (by the committee members), so I went with their recommendation,” George said.
Council Chairman Tony Brooks, who sat on the committee, said both companies had proposed a combined use of a hotel, apartments and retail space at the northeast corner of River and Market streets.
“Both proposals were very exciting, modern and forward-thinking, both would fit in to the environment nicely and both would look good on the city skyline,” Brooks said.
George said he also reviewed a video provided with the proposal and found it “really impressive.”
“It’s going to be state-of-the-art and it’s going to be a gateway to the city, which is what we want,” George said.
Brooks said his fellow committee members include city Administrator Ted Wampole, Director of Operations Butch Frati, Economic and Community Development Director Joyce Morrash Zaykowski, Councilwoman Beth Gilbert and Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Wico van Genderen.
Larry Newman, executive director of the Diamond City Partnership, an alliance formed to promote downtown revitalization, was a non-voting member of the committee, Brooks said.
Brooks said the committee members independently reviewed the “two big, thick proposal packets against a sheet of about 20 different criteria” and scored each of the proposals.
Each committee member then returned the materials to the mayor along with their recommendations, which were based on the scores he or she assigned, Brooks explained.
The mayor then made a recommendation to council for “a larger review” because the sale of city land is ultimately a council decision.
Brooks said the ranking system was “quite thorough.”
Gilbert agreed, noting that Newman, who has sat on similar committees in the past, developed the criteria and ranking system.
Newman said he had hoped the city would attract “thoughtful and thorough” proposals to the request, and his hope was satisfied.
“The city got two thoughtful responses to a critically important development parcel at the western gateway to downtown,” Newman said.
Gilbert said a major reason she scored Gateway higher was that being a local company, it “has a stake in the city” and a proven track record of development.
Gilbert also noted that one of the team members proposed by McClure is also one of the initial participants in a downtown hotel/conference center project that still hasn’t broken ground after more than two years. That project developer is Sphere International LLC.
Gateway Center Associates is located at 24 W. Market St., which is the former Wyoming National Bank building and is owned by Sam Syla, who opened the new Vault Grill and Bar there last summer along with Genc Gashi and Cafe Toscana owners Marcello and Bruno Ahmeti.
Syla bought the building in 2014 for $285,000 and invested more than $2 million in private funds renovating it.
The Sterling site is located in a Keystone Opportunity Zone, making it tax-exempt until 2024. The land is currently used as a parking lot.
The former hotel and property was previously owned by the now-defunct CityVest, a non-profit community development firm that bought the site in 2002 with $6 million in federal funding through a county loan.
The effort was intended to preserve the iconic structure, but when CityVest announced it was going to dissolve in 2013, the dilapidated hotel that had been standing since 1897 was razed.
In January 2017, Berkshire Hathaway GUARD Insurance Group signed a non-binding letter of intent with the city to explore buying the site and using it to expand operations, but the company ultimately decided to relocate all of its Wilkes-Barre offices to the Wilkes-Barre Center building on Public Square instead.
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