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City of Wheeling Arranges Deal For Safety Building Property

An initial rendering for the Wheeling public safety building proposed to be built at the corner of 19th and Jacob streets.

WHEELING — City officials plan to proceed with a controversial plan for a new public safety building, utilizing a site that drew substantial criticism earlier this year. A first step toward acquiring the property is scheduled for Tuesday’s noon City Council meeting.

Property owner Frank Calabrese originally sought $534,000 for the property at 19th and Jacob streets, where the city had proposed building the public safety building. The land is occupied by an old warehouse structure.

After negotiations, city leaders are now pursuing an alternative plan, in which the city will pay $150,000 for the property, with another $195,000 in escrow to be used for expected environmental cleanup of the site, city officials said. If the city secures a brownfield grant from the federal government to reclaim the land, the escrow money will instead be paid to Calabrese, officials said.

The matter has been placed on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting, at which council will consider entering into a 90-day option to purchase the property. City council member Dave Palmer provided some details late last week.

“We’ve been told that it’s a vulnerable site for cleanup, so we’ll be applying for the grant,” Palmer said. “If we get that (grant), that will release the $195,000 in escrow to Mr. Calabrese. If we don’t, we’ll be able to use that money as part of the cleanup.” In either case, Palmer said the city would rather pursue the option than the original asking price. “It’s a whole lot better than $500,000,” he said.

The overall project is estimated to cost about $14.5 million.

Palmer credited city manager Bob Herron for his negotiation work, and Calabrese for his flexibility in the matter. If passed on second reading at the second council meeting this month, council would have 90 days to finalize the matter, and the money would remain in escrow for around 18 months.

“This is basically an option, and something could always fall through on that,” Palmer said. “While the public safety committee identified this as our site many months ago, it’s taken us a long time to get to where we’re at, because of our due diligence. … Mr. Calabrese had his appraisal done, we had ours done, and we’ve come to this resolution — we feel pretty comfortable with that.” An estimate of the property’s value done in 2018 by the Ohio County Assessor’s Office set it at $43,300.

Palmer described the need for the public safety building to not only be one of space, but of care and duty to first responders, comparing it to recruiting new talent for a sports team.

“We struggle with recruitment, in the police department especially, and in the fire department with paramedics,” he said. “Our recruiting is no different from WVU basketball — they show prospective recruits that new, $25 million basketball facility, and we’re looking for one to house our first responders. It shows prospective recruits that we’re serious about meeting the needs of our employees.”

Palmer said the heads of both the fire and police departments are happy with the arrangement, and that he hopes the city could be a source of development for that part of the neighborhood.

“Looking at cleaning up that blighted site, nobody else is probably going to do it, if not for the government.”

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