More Time Granted In 1100 Block Suit

A federal judge will give Howard’s Diamond Center until mid-January to resolve a lawsuit with its insurance company over the destruction of its downtown Wheeling building during a major city demolition project last year.

The jeweler is suing insurance provider Hartford Fire Insurance Co. for refusing to pay an approximately $700,000 claim on the vacant building in the 1100 block of Market Street. The insurance company maintains the Oct. 25, 2012 collapse of a wall onto the former jewelry store during demolition of the neighboring Feet First building was not a covered cause of loss.

U.S. District Court Judge John Preston Bailey had set a Dec. 1 deadline for mediation in the case, which the parties agreed likely could be resolved without a trial. But attorneys for both sides told Bailey in a joint motion that difficulty in obtaining depositions from certain “non-party” witnesses prevented them from meeting a previously imposed Oct. 1 deadline to complete discovery.

According to the joint motion, the last deposition was expected to be taken this week. Bailey granted the extension Oct. 28, giving both sides until Dec. 1 to file additional motions and setting a new deadline of Jan. 15 for mediation.

Meanwhile, the now roofless former jewelry store remains an eyesore in the downtown area as the dispute proceeds through the court system. City officials also are awaiting resolution of the lawsuit so they can renew efforts to buy the property, which they had wanted to be a part of the demolition project from the beginning.

Howard’s Diamond Center has not sued the city or its demolition contractor, Dore and Associates of Bay City, Mich., over the wall collapse, which delayed the demolition project about six months.

In July, City Manager Robert Herron said the city planned to resume negotiations with the jewelry store, which was among three building owners on the block who refused to sell, once the insurance lawsuit is resolved. He said Thursday the city remains interested in the property, and at this point, the ongoing litigation has not delayed plans to redevelop the block.

Even if the city is unsuccessful in buying the building, it will need to be secured or torn down, Herron added.

Between 2008 and 2011, City Council purchased much of the 1100 block of Main and Market streets – including the former Rite Aid, G.C. Murphy, River City Dance Works, Feet First and Dr. Manny Velez dental office buildings – and later voted to demolish them to create a large open space to market for future development.

But they struck out in their attempt to acquire the now-vacant Howard’s Diamond Center buildings, along with Vocelli Pizza and Panda Chinese Kitchen, which still remain in business on the block.

The former jewelry store has been vacant since 2010, when Howard’s Diamond Center left downtown Wheeling for a new location at The Highlands.

The property was appraised at $68,200 in 2008, and its most recent assessed value is $29,588. However, Howard’s Diamond Center’s policy with Hartford lists “full value replacement cost” of the downtown building at $647,400, “business personal property replacement cost” at $16,400 and debris removal coverage of $25,000, according to court documents.