Block’s Future Awaits Lawsuit

WHEELING – A half-demolished building remains a lingering eyesore in downtown Wheeling more than five months after one of its walls collapsed onto the former home of Howard’s Diamond Center. Now, the jewelry store is suing its insurance company in federal court for refusing to pay for the resulting damage.

It’s been almost a year since Dore and Associates of Bay City, Mich., began tearing down several city-owned structures in the 1100 block of Main and Market streets to create open space for future development. The work was to be complete last fall, but it ground to a halt when part of a wall on the former Feet First building at 1121 Market St. fell onto the old jewelry store Oct. 25.

The jewelry store alleges the incident occurred when a Dore and Associates construction vehicle struck that wall, propelling bricks and other debris onto and through the roof of its building, located at 1125 Market St. Howard’s Diamond Center’s policy with Hartford Fire Insurance provides for coverage caused by “physical contact of … a vehicle or an object thrown up by a vehicle with the covered property or with the building or structure containing the covered property.”

Hartford denies the Oct. 25 incident is a covered cause of loss, but Howard’s Diamond Center argues the policy language is clear, and even if ambiguous should be construed in favor of paying the claim. The jewelry store is seeking damages of $647,000 for building replacement, $25,000 for debris removal and $16,400 for personal property damage, in addition to legal fees.

Howard Posin, father of the store’s current owner, Seth Posin, said the business immediately turned the matter over to its attorneys. He was unsure if any attempt was made to recoup the loss from Dore and Associates, which allegedly caused the damage. Attempts to reach the store’s attorney, David Jividen, were unsuccessful and Posin declined to comment further while the lawsuit is pending.

Even though the city is not a party to the suit, City Manager Robert Herron said the resulting delay is prompting officials to consider legal action of their own to bring the downtown project’s demolition phase – now about six months behind schedule – to a close.

“We are taking steps to ensure that Dore finishes the demolition contract,” Herron said, declining to elaborate due to the potential for litigation.

Dore and Associates officials did not return a call Tuesday seeking comment.

In addition to removing the Market Street facade of the Feet First building, Herron said Dore’s remaining responsibilities include spreading the site with topsoil and grass seed. The city has $400,000 set aside to make the site functional while officials attempt the sell the property, with options including temporary parking or green space.

The city purchased the former Rite Aid, G.C. Murphy, River City Dance Works and Graham buildings in 2008. After several years went by without a developer stepping up to renovate the deteriorating structures, Mayor Andy McKenzie announced his intention to tear them down in February 2011. Later that year, the city purchased the former Feet First building and Dr. Manny Velez’s dental office, and awarded the demolition contract in February 2012.

Although Howard’s Diamond Center relocated to The Highlands in 2010, the former downtown location is one of three buildings on the block the city was unsuccessful in purchasing, along with Vocelli’s Pizza and Panda Chinese Kitchen. Those businesses wanted to remain downtown and there were no suitable relocation opportunities, according to city officials.

To date, about $1.9 million has been spent on the 1100 block project. The city’s contract with Dore and Associates represents $693,600 of that total, with the rest spent on property acquisition, asbestos abatement and compensating Velez for moving his practice to Elm Grove.