Judge Sets Deadline in 1100 Block Spat

WHEELING – A federal judge set a Dec. 1 deadline for Howard’s Diamond Center and its insurance company to resolve a lawsuit over damage done to the store’s former downtown Wheeling location during a city demolition project last fall.

U.S. District Court Judge John Preston Bailey issued the order following a planning conference between attorneys on both sides. According to court documents, both parties agreed the only issue in dispute is whether the jewelry store’s insurance policy with Hartford Fire Insurance Co. covers the damage in question, and they believe they can resolve the matter without a trial.

Based on that information, Bailey set a Dec. 1 deadline for mediation and ordered both parties to complete the discovery process by Oct. 1.

On Oct. 25, during demolition of the city-owned Feet First building in the 1100 block of Market Street, a construction vehicle allegedly knocked part of a wall onto the former Howard’s Diamond Center, sending bricks through the roof and causing damage to all three of the building’s floors. The lawsuit claims the building is a total loss and seeks almost $700,000 in damages, but Hartford maintains the October incident was not a covered loss.

The jewelry store filed suit in Ohio County Circuit Court in February after the insurance company rejected its claim. The matter was removed to federal court in March.

Neither the city nor its contractor, Dore and Associates of Bay City, Mich., is named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

However, the wall collapse caused about a six-month delay in the $693,600 demolition of several city-owned buildings in the 1100 block of Main and Market streets. Only last month did the Feet First building’s Market Street facade come down, after Dore and Associates returned to the site in April to complete much of the remaining work by hand.

The city’s contract with Dore also calls for the company to spread topsoil and grass seed at the site, where some of the company’s construction equipment remains.

Meanwhile, the damage to the Howard’s Diamond Center building is clearly visible to passersby on Main Street as city officials prepare to market the adjacent cleared property for future development. It remains unclear whether the structure will have to be torn down, and what impact that may have on the city’s ability to make use of the site as it courts potential developers.

City Manager Robert Herron was out of town at a conference Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.

Howard’s Diamond Center owners Seth and Howard Posin also were unavailable for comment.

Wheeling officials have set aside $400,000 to restore the site for use as temporary parking, green space or some combination of the two. City Council has yet to outline a specific plan to do that, however.

The Howard’s Diamond Center building was one of three in the 1100 block of Main and Market streets the city unsuccessfully attempted to acquire, though it has been vacant since the business moved to The Highlands retail development in 2010. Vocelli Pizza and Panda Chinese Kitchen are the others, both of which remain in business.