Plans for Old City Building May Include Market Place

If a proposal to turn the old city building into a public market advances, it won’t be the first time government offices and commerce have shared a space.

Only two departments remain in Steubenville’s old city building and one of them — the police department — is days away from completing its move into the new building. That will leave only Municipal Court in the old building.

Sixth Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna has proposed letting the court take over the old police department space, then turning the rest of the building into a market house similar to Wheeling’s Centre Market.

“My vision, and (tonight) I’ll find out if council is on board with it, is to gut the building down to the brick walls and make it look exactly like Centre Market in Wheeling, restore it to what it was back in the day,” Villamagna said, suggesting it could be a “catalyst” for the downtown economy. “The only difference is it won’t be an open air market, it would be closed.”

Back in the early 1800s, the mayor’s office was located on the second floor of the original market house, built on land Bezaleel Wells had designated for a “public” use. “Space also was provided for the meetings of council and other city boards,” according to a history of the old “Market Square” published in the Herald-Star in April 1935. Wells and James Ross founded Steubenville in 1797.

“For 62 years the original structure gave uninterrupted service as a market house and city building. Then, in 1878, according to an historical authority, it became the center of a bitter controversy, dividing city residents into two factions.

“City Council, backed by one group, deemed the ancient structure an eyesore and enacted legislation for its demolition. Other citizens held the old Market House in reverence as a landmark and tradesmen resented the destruction of their trading place. Court action enjoining the city from razing the building was threatened.

“But city officials outwitted the opposition. Under cover of night, wreckers attacked the structure and by morning it had disappeared.”

Research done by Erika Grubbs, a genealogist at the Schiappa branch of the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County, found that by 1883 work on a new city building had been completed, this one housing city offices as well as a public market, post office, library and open house. Then, in 1915, a separate building was constructed on South Third Street for the public market. By 1922 council had voted to move city offices out of the 1883 building into the South Third Street property.

Four years later, council leased the old city building — later known as the annex building — to a pair of local entrepreneurs who, to avoid voiding their 40-year lease as well as litigation with heirs of Bezaleel Wells, demolished all but the rear wall and the basement walls. By 1932 they were in default and, after a court battle, the city regained control of the annex.

Villamagna he’s seen pictures of what he believes is now the old city building when it shared space with a public market in the 1900s.

“It’s structurally sound,” Villamagna said, pointing out he’d done a walk-through Monday with an engineer from JDO Engineering of Richmond and City Manager Jim Mavromatis. “He said it’s a clear span building, which means there are no load-bearing walls. He sees no problem with the foundation of the building. There’s minor re-pointing on some of the corners … but the foundation is solid.”

Villamagna said they’ll probably have an asbestos assessment done before they can get a cost estimate. He also said he’s hoping they can get grant funding to aid in development..

“A lot of towns have done it,” Mavromatis said.

“Like anything else (it comes down to) what is the cost factor to get this and does council want to go in that direction.”

Council’s weekly meeting is set for 7:30 p.m. today. The economic development committee will meet at 6:30 p.m. today, and planning committee at 7 p.m.

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