Friendly City to Show Off Vacant Properties

WHEELING – It won’t be your typical real estate showcase, but those interested in acquiring property at bargain-basement prices from the city of Wheeling can inspect several vacant buildings up for sale on Tuesday morning.

Earlier this week, the city issued a request for proposals from would-be developers for several buildings and vacant lots around town. There is no set asking price for any of the properties, but anyone seeking to buy any of the parcels first will have to demonstrate they have a realistic plan to improve them, according to city leaders.

Tuesday’s first walkthrough will be at 9 a.m. at the former Tom’s Pizza building, located next to Braunlich’s on Main Street. At 10 a.m., the public can view the former East Wheeling police precinct building at 126 15th St., and the final showing will take place at 11 a.m. at the corner of 16th and Wood streets, where a contiguous group of vacant lots and four buildings – including the former Keg und Kraut restaurant site – is available.

One building that is available for sale, but not a part of Tuesday’s walkthroughs, is the former Gene Long Community Center on Wheeling Island. Tom Connelly, assistant director of the city’s Economic and Community Development Department, said officials decided to keep the former neighborhood gathering spot off the tour based on city engineers’ doubts about the building’s structural integrity.

“They just said that the floors are real soft, and it may not be a good building to have the public walk through for safety reasons,” he said, noting one-on-one tours that wouldn’t be as much of a strain on the deteriorating building could be an option.

Built in 1868, the Gene Long Community Center has become a landmark for Island residents who have chronicled generations of high water marks from various floods on its walls. But the building has been a cause for concern since February, when several bricks fell from the top of the structure to the sidewalk below, prompting the city to close the surrounding sidewalk.

In addition to these structures, the city also is looking to sell several vacant lots in East Wheeling, including smaller lots at 134 14th St. and 115 and 115 1/2 15th St., as well as the much larger 1401 McColloch St., where the former Jefferson School – later Imperial Pools – stood until its demolition earlier this year.

Some of these properties might be good candidates for in-fill housing, Connelly noted, if the buildings are designed in a manner consistent with the historic feel of the neighborhood.

City leaders aren’t necessarily looking for the best financial offer on these properties, but rather developers who are willing and able to return the buildings or land to productive use. The Wheeling Historic Landmarks Commission will evaluate all proposals based on several criteria, including an applicant’s financial ability to complete the project, experience and qualifications and the project’s anticipated impact on the city.

The commission then would issue a non-binding recommendation to City Council, which would have to approve any sale through the city’s development arm, the Ohio Valley Area Development Corp.

Would-be buyers must also agree to secure the building within 6 months, provide a detailed timeline for construction or rehabilitation within a year, and complete the project within five years or less. If these terms are not met, the city could take back the property with no reimbursement to the buyer.

Officials have set a May 30 deadline to submit offers so the Historic Landmarks Commission can review them at its June meeting, but that date could be extended if the city fails to receive suitable proposals.