Group Wants To Fill Vacancy

WHEELING – City officials have identified seven properties that could fit a Wheeling Historic Landmarks Commission proposal to get vacant, decaying property back into productive use.

Last month, the commission discussed a plan in which vacant, city-owned property in historic areas could be conveyed to interested owners for a small sum – perhaps as little as $1 – provided the buyer adheres to a specific plan to stabilize and renovate the property in a timely manner consistent with the neighborhood’s history. Commissioners hope the plan will not only improve the appearance of those properties but turn them into sources of revenue for the city rather than drains on its resources.

The proposal is the brainchild of a newly formed committee on historic preservation that includes Historic Landmarks Commission members C.J. Kaiser, Jeremy Morris and Patrick Cassidy, announced by Mayor Andy McKenzie in February and tasked with researching historic buildings in Wheeling for the purpose of preserving them. Commissioners hope to finalize the proposal at their next meeting Nov. 1 to present for final approval by City Council.

Tom Connelly, assistant director of Economic and Community Development, said the seven properties identified include the former Gene Long Community Center at the corner of Virginia and South Penn streets on Wheeling Island; the former Tom’s Pizza building next to Braunlich’s on Main Street; the former police precinct building near 15th and Wood streets; three vacant lots – two on 14th Street and one on 15th Street, all between Jacob and Wood streets; and the former Imperial Pools building on McColloch Street.

The Imperial Pools building has been targeted for demolition by the city, but Connelly said he believes there has been some discussion about trying to save the structure. He referred additional questions about the building to City Manager Robert Herron, who declined to comment.

According to Connelly, the city owns about 370 parcels of real estate. Of those, 128 are vacant lots – an unknown number of which are undevelopable – 111 are part of various city parks, 63 are parking facilities, 48 are used by the Public Works Department, 13 have structures on them, and nine make up the portion of the 1100 block of Main and Market streets that is being demolished.

Connelly said some of those figures are misleading – for example, the city doesn’t own 63 separate parking lots, but one such facility may include multiple parcels as identified on the county assessor’s tax map.

Connelly said there are a few problems with the commission’s original proposal which would have to be resolved. For example, granting a five-year waiver of the city’s vacant building registration fee on properties bought under the commission’s plan would constitute discrimination against owners of other vacant structures. And he recommended the commission not automatically attach a $1 price tag to the properties but leave the figure open to proposals from interested buyers.

Kaiser said the seven properties identified are a good start but asked the city Legal Department to do more research on liens the city may have against abandoned buildings in historic districts which he believes could be used to force the sale of those properties at auction.

“It’s not necessarily the role of the city to collect on its lien – it’s the role of the city to get the property back into private hands,” he said.