Something New Brewing at Mall? Levies Only Ballot Choice

There seems to be something big brewing again at the Ohio Valley Mall besides the arrival in the near future of Boscov’s, the largest family-owned department store in the nation.

Ten days ago, Anthony Cafaro Jr., co-president of the Cafaro Co., owners of the mall, made a surprise visit to the retail facility and with him was a gentleman carrying big rolls of heavy paper, the kind architects and engineers use to prepare plans and specifications for a big building – like a big-box store, a string of stores, a hotel/motel or some such building.

Asked about the visit and about what appeared to be a bundle of building plans of some sort, mall manager George Diab’s only comment was, “I can’t say anything right now.”

When the grand reopening of the renovated mall was staged in November, Cafaro told me during a brief break in the festivities that negotiations were ongoing to attract other businesses, including possibly a hotel and restaurant. And he expressed confidence the results of those negotiations would be evident in the near future. That was six months ago.

At that time he mentioned the large open space in the mall area – apparently referring to the area where the former Rax Restaurant building was razed – as a target area for new development. As soon as that building was razed there were reports circulating that the area would be developed as a strip mall extending from the CVS Pharmacy several hundred yards to the north.

One business that would still be in the path of such a development is the J.D. Byrider auto agency. But a sign in the agency’s display window indicates it may not be at that location very long. The sign reads: Moving soon. When I inquired about their plans to move, I was informed the company would contact me.

Since that brief talk with the mall executive in November, another significant development occurred just two months later. In January a deed was filed with the Belmont County recorder’s office involving the in- house transfer of ownership of 36 acres of land immediately west of the mall complex.

That piece of ground at one time was considered for development of several businesses including Home Depot and an Olive Garden restaurant, but the plans never reached fruition because a planned highway improvement failed to materialize. That highway plan would have seen construction of a new mall interchange that would include a bridge over I-70 linking the 36-acre Cafaro site with 99 acres of developable land, known as St. Clair Commons, situated between the Ohio Valley Plaza and St. Clairsville. And there would be a connection to the National Road.

Belmont County commissioners have succeeded in keeping that project open in a modified capacity since a $7 million earmark for the original I-70 project still exists. The commissioners have also kept available nearly $2 million as possible matching funds for the project if and when it is awarded. It has been nine years since that project was first considered by the Ohio Department of Transportation and it is likely to be another couple of years before it reaches fruition.

It is said that the “third time’s a charm” to succeed with some activity or event. That did not work in attempts to get a levy passed for the financially struggling Bellaire School District. Neither did the fourth or fifth attempts.

But on this sixth try that voters will be casting ballots on Tuesday, Bellaire’s business and civic leaders have joined forces with a determined community contingent bent on getting an 8.25-mill levy adopted to stop the financial bleeding that has forced millions of dollars in operational cutbacks in the school system for many years. The school district has not passed an operating levy since 1974.

Safety of the students is a key issue in the Bellaire levy, just as it is in other school districts in the county that are seeking approval of levies in Tuesday’s primary election. Deadly shooting sprees that have occurred at other educational institutions the past few years have placed the safety issue uppermost in the minds of school officials everywhere.

Approval of the issue on Tuesday would provide the Bellaire district approximately $961,000 a year over a five year period and would lift it out of a fiscal emergency with the state.

“Secure Our Schools” is the student safety issue promoted by a citizens group in St. Clairsville, where approval is being sought of a 2.75-mill levy that would replace a 2.95-mill bond issue that was passed in 2001 to finance construction of the middle school-high school connector building. School officials and the citizens’ committee stress there would be no increase in taxes for the school district taxpayers as a result of the approval of the issue.

Voters in the St. Clairsville and Richland Township areas will have a second tax issue on the ballot. A one-quarter mill levy is being sought to operate the Memorial Park. Some voters have noted the park already has a levy in effect. But Teri Walters of the committee seeking passage of the levy emphasized the current levy funds cannot be used to operate the park. “It is a capital improvement levy and the money can’t be used for park operation. Without an operating levy we can’t cut the grass, hire lifeguards or other operational functions. We just would not have the money to operate the park.” Just last week she said park officials received notice that their local government funds had been reduced from $9,642 to a little over $8,000.

The Bridgeport School District is seeking approval of a 1-mill levy for five years for current operating purposes and Buckeye Local School District wants an additional 2.1 mills for five years to cover emergency requirements.

Bethesda has two issues on the ballot. One is a renewal of a 1.5-mill levy for five years for construction and repair of streets, roads, bridges and alleys. The other is the replacement of 3 mills for a continuing period to provide fund for maintaining equipment, operation of the police department and payment of salaries to permanent police personnel.

Voters in five precincts in the southern part of the county will vote on a 6.44-mill additional levy for five years sought by the Switzerland of Ohio School District to avoid an operating deficit. And voters in three precincts in Yorkville will be voting on a 1- mill levy for seven years that is being sought by the Jefferson County Joint Vocational School District to meet current expense and to purchase equipment and to finance building improvements.

All candidates for office in Martins Ferry, Bellaire, and Shadyside are running unopposed in the primary. Candidates for offices in the smaller communities have until Aug.7 to file their candidacy in the November general election.

The levy issues have stirred up enough interest in several communities to attract 1,800 voters to cast absentee ballots and a couple hundred more to show up at the board office in St. Clairsville to cast their votes in person.

Only 45 of the county’s 70 precincts will be open on Tuesday, which means there will be a total of 180 precinct workers to pay instead of the usual 350.

Car owners in Belmont County won’t have to worry about paying an additional $10 for their car license plate next year since the county commissioners rejected that proposal. That means they’ll have to contend with deteriorating county roads roads and bridges – at least for a while.

Commissioners are exploring other sources to come up with revenue to help the county engineer with repairing and rebuilding county roads and bridges because two of the three – Ginny Favede and Chuck Probst – decided the fee would place a financial burden on many county residents, particularly senior citizens.

They are looking to the oil and gas industry, which is growing and expanding daily in the county as a possible revenue source in six to eight months. The county owns about 144 acres of ground and they are in negotiations with one firm that is interested in it as a drilling site. Revenue obtained from leasing that property could be used for upgrading the county roads.

Al Molnar can be reached via email at: or by phone at (740) 695-5233.