Hotel Owner Wants Time

WHEELING – The owner of the former Rogers Hotel said in municipal court Wednesday he doesn’t know when he’ll be ready to open a restaurant inside the condemned downtown building.

In February, Municipal Judge Don Nickerson fined Mark Jaber of Akron, Ohio, $20,000 for code violations at the long-vacant former hotel at the corner of 14th and Market streets, but suspended collection of the fine for nine months, until late November.

During a status hearing Wednesday, when Nickerson asked Jaber for a “guess” as to when he thought he could have a restaurant open inside the building, Jaber couldn’t give an answer.

“A lot of this project is a lot of unknowns,” he said.

Since his last appearance in municipal court in September, Jaber said he has finished work on the building’s roof, replaced windows and doors and has made progress on the building’s facade. There’s more work still ahead before Jaber can hook the building up with water, gas and electricity, but he believes he’s gone “above and beyond” what the court has asked him to do.

“We did more than the roof – we rebuilt that whole enclosed area up there,” Jaber said.

Jaber, who purchased the old hotel in 2005 for $3,000, had been planning to open a sports bar and grill on one side of the building’s ground floor. He now says he wants to open a wood-fired steakhouse on the opposite side of the building, with possible plans to add a deli-style sandwich shop on the other side in the future.

Code officials said they’re satisfied for the most part with the work Jaber has done on the building. However, they want to see blueprints detailing his plans now that those plans apparently have changed.

Jaber said he didn’t want to end up spending money for professionally drawn blueprints, only to have city officials find fault with them and demand they be redone.

Code Official Tom Wilson said during their last walkthrough of the building, they noticed a few issues that needed to be addressed – but had blueprints been available, they could have pointed those issues out before any work was done.

“We’re trying to save him time as to what he’s doing there,” Wilson said.

Although it appears unlikely work on the building will be finished by late November, Assistant City Solicitor Howard Klatt asked Nickerson for a December return date in the case rather than request he impose the fine. Jaber will be due back in court Dec. 18 for another status update.

Built almost 100 years ago and billed as “fireproof,” the Rogers Hotel closed in the late 1980s. City officials condemned it in 1994 but took no action to force the previous owners to demolish it.

When Jaber bought the building eight years ago, he claimed he would open a “full-blown” casino there, but those plans never materialized. In 2010, he avoided losing the building by paying about $3,900 in then-delinquent taxes after a Ritchie County, W.Va., outfit, Purple Properties LLC, attempted to buy the building for $20 at a tax sale.