Sterling Annex property on the market after project investors balk

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - | March 5th, 2017 6:30 pm

WILKES-BARRE — The four-story Sterling Annex building on River Street has been listed for sale as city officials seek development options for the prominent former Hotel Sterling lot next door.

G2A-B Realty LLC, owned by Bear Creek Village resident George Asimakopoulos, bought the century-old annex in 2012 for a planned mixed commercial/residential project with views of the Susquehanna River that never materialized.

Mericle Commercial Real Estate broker Steve M. Barrouk, who is trying to sell the annex for G2A-B, said his client made a sincere attempt to develop the building and invested significant funds on engineering and architectural plans.

However, other project investors dropped out after G2A-B was unable to cement an agreement for additional parking and convince officials to apply an assessment reduction retroactively, Barrouk said.

“The sign was put up to show he’s willing to talk about offers for the building,” Barrouk said, noting the building would be an ideal boutique hotel or could be incorporated into plans for the adjacent lot.

City officials have been seeking a developer for the 2.07-acre lot at the corner of River and Market streets since the condemned Hotel Sterling was demolished in 2013.

The city has sponsored an application for a $1 million gaming revenue grant for the planned expansion of Berkshire Hathaway Guard insurance, possibly on the former Sterling lot.

The annex property is slated to be listed in Luzerne County’s September back-tax auction because it carries $92,600 in unpaid county, municipal and school real estate taxes from 2012 through 2016, county records show.

G2A-B had entered into a repayment plan to escape a 2014 auction, but the property headed to auction again the following year because the owner paid $13,137 toward the debt but nothing more as required, records show. A judge removed the property from the 2015 sale because the company requested time to remedy assessment issues.

A county assessment appeals board reduced the property’s assessment from $1.622 million to $250,000 in 2013, but G2A-B maintained the reduction should be retroactive to 2012, when it purchased the property from the Greater Wilkes-Barre Development Corp. No subsequent court filings could be located showing G2A-B pursued a court action necessary to obtain a reduction back to 2012.

All back taxes would be paid at closing if the property is sold. G2A-B has listed the nearly 30,000-square-foot property at $495,000. It sits on 0.21 acres and includes five parking spaces at the rear of the building, the listing says.

If the property is not sold, G2A-B must pay the debt through 2015 or obtain another court order to be removed from the sale, according to county tax-claim operator Northeast Revenue Service LLC. Due to the default, the owner would not eligible for another tax-claim authorized payment plan until June 2018, Northeast Revenue said.

The Greater Wilkes-Barre Development Corp., an arm of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry that both sold the property and provided a mortgage to G2A-B in 2012, had initiated a foreclosure action last year attempting to reclaim ownership of the property due to nonpayment of the mortgage, but that action was withdrawn, records show.

Built in 1912 as an Elks Lodge, the structure took on its annex name when it was acquired by the Hotel Sterling ’s owners around World War II. The building was used as an ancillary ballroom and meeting space for the hotel before serving as a Luzerne County Community College campus in the late 1960s and 70s and later housing offices. It has been vacant since plans to turn it into a college art museum or art gallery died in the early 1990s.

The structure has three full floors and a mezzanine on the fourth floor, and the interior has been mostly gutted, the listing said, stressing it has a “beautiful facade” and is in a “highly visible location” facing the River Common recreational complex at the “gateway to downtown Wilkes-Barre.”

The Sterling Annex on North River Street in Wilkes-Barre has been listed for sale. Sterling Annex on North River Street in Wilkes-Barre has been listed for sale. Times Leader file photo

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.