Cassidy: Buy Time for Gene Long Center

Historic Landmarks Commission member Patrick Cassidy said Wheeling officials should move the Gene Long Community Center to the bottom of their demolition priority list to buy additional time for the condemned Wheeling Island structure.

His comments during the commission’s Thursday meeting were prompted by a letter from city Economic and Community Development Specialist Gary Lange asking if the commission had any comment on the proposed demolition, as part of required steps to obtain clearance to use federal funds to demolish buildings.

About two weeks ago, City Manager Robert Herron said he had authorized an asbestos inspection for the 145-year-old former restaurant, dance hall and neighborhood gathering place – which also features a record of high water marks from various flood events scrawled on its exterior.

The city had sought proposals for the structure from interested developers with no results, but Cassidy believes there may still be someone out there who wants to save it.

“It seems to me that when I read in the paper that no one had come forward, everyone started talking about it,” he said.

Long’s family gifted the building to the city a few years ago, but it has remained empty and its deterioration has accelerated of late, causing the city to close the sidewalk around the building to protect pedestrians from falling bricks.

“I think at this point, the problem is it’s become a hazard to the community,” said commission Chairman C.J. Kaiser, who again stressed his belief the commission should be apprised of at-risk properties before they reach the point of no return. Economic and Community Development Assistant Director Tom Connelly suggested commission members look for building code violations on the weekly municipal court docket.

In other business, Elizabeth Paulhus brought a number of issues to commission members’ attention on behalf of the Ohio Valley Young Preservationists group.

Group members believe the city’s lack of a historic building code – alternative and often less stringent rules for historic structures – is an obstacle to development, making it cost-prohibitive to renovate older buildings to the same standards which govern newer construction. Other jurisdictions have adopted such a code, she noted.