News Column

Solicitor: County can now collect parking fees at Sterling site

August 6, 2014

By James Halpin, The Citizens' Voice, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.



Aug. 06--A $6.6 million judgment against CityVest clears the way for Luzerne County to begin collecting parking fees the nonprofit owner of the former Hotel Sterling property had been collecting since the hotel was demolished, the county solicitor said Wednesday.

The judgment says CityVest failed to pay the principal and interest on a loan from the county while allowing the property to go uninsured, despite the county notifying CityVest officials of the default in August 2011. County solicitor David Pedri said the judgment legally secures the county's interest in the property and also allows it to go after CityVest for compensation.

Read the judgment

A business called LAZ Parking has been using the property as a paid parking lot since the hotel was demolished last summer.

"It does give us the authority to garnish any sort of income that CityVest may gain," Pedri said, adding that he wrote to LAZ in June saying the county has action pending against CityVest and to stop payments to the nonprofit. "This gives us the authority to collect any and all funds from the parking fees."

The county is looking into potential litigation over money previously collected for use of the property as well, he said.

The amount of money on the line isn't clear, Pedri said. CityVest agreed in January to open its books for his review, but he said they then failed to follow through.

"They reneged on their offer," Pedri said.

Any money recovered will go to community development, rather than the general fund, because the $6 million mortgage was funded by a grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, he said. HUD is seeking to have the county repay $10 million in grant funding, including the Sterling money, saying the projects failed to produce the intended results.

The county has appealed that determination.

Money from parking fees could possibly be the only reimbursement the county ever sees.

The City of Wilkes-Barre paid for the dilapidated hotel to be demolished last summer and in November filed a $470,754 lien to cover those costs, in addition to a $76,148 lien it previously filed to cover the costs of traffic barriers and other issues resulting from the building's state.

In June, Luzerne County Judge Michael Vough signed off on a judgment against CityVest for $569,112 after the property's nonprofit owner failed to respond to claims by city officials.

Despite the county having a $6 million mortgage on the property, the city has "first lien position" because its nuisance abatement lien supersedes the county's claims to the property, assistant city attorney Bill Vinsko has said.

The city has plans to foreclose on the property and bring it to a public sale, at which point the city intends to acquire the site for development, he said.

That means the county won't get anything unless a bidder goes higher than the lien the city has on the property.

Check back to www.citizensvoice.com for updates.

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(c)2014 The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)

Visit The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.) at citizensvoice.com

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Source: Citizens' Voice, The (Wilkes-Barre, PA)


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