Bailouts Cannot Continue

One obstacle in redeveloping downtown Wheeling is that the owners of some of the old buildings here have vastly inflated opinions of what their properties are worth.

City government isn’t helping disabuse them of that notion.

Consider three situations involving old buildings and the city:

n As we reported last week, the city may finally be getting rid of structures it owns in the 1400 block of Market Street. An Arizona couple hopes to repair them and return them to productive use.

The city spent $295,000 to buy the buildings. In addition to handing them to the Arizonans for a nominal sum, it may help with their project to the extent of what it would have cost to demolish the buildings.

n City officials spent $300,000 to purchase junk buildings at 1107 and 1109 Main Street, sold them to a developer for a pittance, and plan to provide $350,000 for repair and renovation work.

n At one point, officials seemed ready to spend $534,000 on an old warehouse and 3 acres of land on 19th Street. The idea was to build a new public safety facility on the property. That still may happen, but after a public uproar over the cost, the plan now is to negotiate the price down — if that site is chosen at all for the public safety facility.

Now, understand that the three situations involved both the current mayor and city council and their predecessors. People with vastly different ideas about municipal government and development played parts.

What’s the common thread in all three situations? In two, owners of junk buildings not only were relieved of the burden of spending money to repair or raze them, but received tidy sums by selling them to the city. The 19th Street property was well on its way to being in the same category.

Years ago, I talked to an entrepreneur who wanted to open a store in downtown Wheeling. He gave up after talking with owners of several buildings who wanted outrageous rents. Why couldn’t they understand their properties just weren’t worth what they were asking, my friend wondered.

Good question. Part of the answer may be that property owners see city government as a safety valve. If they can’t rent or sell their old buildings for outrageous sums to private developers, maybe they can talk the city into buying them. In some cases, the alternative is having to dig into their own pockets to have the structures demolished.

Wheeling taxpayers can’t afford any more of that. Preserving beautiful old buildings is nice — but having the money to repair ugly old sidewalks and replace century-old water pipes is nice, too.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.


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