Rethink Market Street Project

When Wheeling City Council bought four old buildings on Market Street a few years ago, officials thought it was a risk worth taking. But as the cost of repairing them mounts and no one in the private sector can be persuaded to buy them, the project needs to be reevaluated.

It may be time to pull the plug.

Most of the members of council now, along with Mayor Glenn Elliott, were not in office when the buildings were purchased. Now, they face the question of whether to plow more than $400,000 into them.

Located at 14,25, 1429, 1433 and 1437 Market Street, the structures must have been gorgeous when they were new. They are classic examples of Victorian-era architecture. City officials paid a total of $295,000 for them in August 2015 and September 2016.

But decades of weather and failure to maintain the buildings adequately have left them in deplorable condition. City officials knew that to interest anyone in the private sector in buying them, even for a token amount, some taxpayers’ money would have to be spent for repairs.

Council members agreed to set aside $300,000 for work on the properties, starting with roof repairs. That will not get the job done, however.

City Manager Robert Herron told us that the estimated cost of repairing two of the buildings that have pitched roofs is $308,000. Taking care of the two with flat roofs would add about $100,000.

Should council find the additional funds needed for the roofs, an enormous amount of repair and renovation work still would be needed underneath them.

Is the investment worth it? Or would taxpayers’ money be spent more wisely in admitting defeat and having the structures demolished?

Council members should think realistically about those two questions.

Victorian-era buildings are one of Wheeling’s strengths. Private owners have had some success in remodeling old structures in the downtown business district.

But the fact city officials have not been able to interest anyone in the private sector in the Market Street properties does not bode well for the possibility of keeping them intact.

A realistic idea of how much would have to be spent to make the buildings marketable should be obtained by council. Then, a simple cost-benefit analysis should be applied.

If the bottom-line amount would be spent better on other downtown revitalization priorities, council should consider whether the best strategy is having the buildings demolished.

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