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End Subsidies For Developers

Wheeling taxpayers simply cannot afford to allow city officials to continue picking winners and losers in the private sector — in effect helping developers convert loser buildings into commercial successes. Let us hope the plan for buildings in the 1400 block of Market Street does not include funding from the city.

It has been argued that Wheeling taxpayers need to invest in preservation of historic buildings. We also need to invest in repairing storm sewers, streets, bridges, sidewalks and many other infrastructure needs, however. There simply is not enough money to go around to continue making what amount to loser buildings into winners for the private sector.

Two Arizonans, Nikki and Ryan Stoker, hope to move to Wheeling to redevelop buildings located from 1425 to 1437 Market Street. Municipal officials have met with them to discuss the proposal.

City officials purchased the buildings in 2015 and 2016, paying a total of $295,000 for them. Most are vacant, though 1437 Market Street is occupied by Market Street News, which pays rent to the city.

Parts of some of the buildings have collapsed or are in danger of doing so. However, Betsy Sweeny, historic preservation program manager with Wheeling Heritage, has said the buildings are structurally sound.

In discussing the Stokers’ plan, Sweeny added that some financial incentives are available to them. For one thing, it is conceivable the city could sell the buildings to them for as little as $1.

Other financial assistance, including state and federal tax credits, is available. And, Sweeny noted, the city has a facade improvement grant program.

Indeed it does. City officials just approved their 15th grant through the initiative, which began in April 2017. It provides up to $15,000 each to property owners seeking to repair and/or improve the appearance of the fronts of their buildings. It has cost the city a total of $185,975 to date.

But some developers have reaped far greater rewards in taxpayers’ money.

Structures at 1107 and 1109 Main Street were purchased by the city a few years ago, at a cost of $300,000. A deal with the private Main Street Ventures allowed them to acquire the buildings for a nominal fee, with a plan to renovate them — using $350,000 in city funding added to the $1.3 million MSV plans to spend.

And, of course, Mayor Glenn Elliott has proposed that the city construct an $11 million parking garage to assist an Ohio firm that has plans to convert the old Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel building into residences.

In both situations, taxpayers’ money would be used to make it feasible for private developers to profit from buildings it might be impractical to renovate without city assistance.

Such assistance, except perhaps in relatively small ways such as the facade program, needs to be history in Wheeling.

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