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Mayor Wins Battle Over Property

It appears Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott is about to win a battle he has been waging since last year. In the process, taxpayers will rescue a property owner who had been stuck with nearly three acres and a few dilapidated buildings no one other than city officials seems to have had any interest in taking off his hands.

City Council members seem solidly on board with the plan, to purchase a tract of land at 19th and Jacob streets, now owned by Americo Inc. The company in turn is owned by Frank Calabrese.

If the address seems familiar, it is because the property was touted for several months as a site for the proposed $14.5 million municipal public safety building. That proposal was scrapped when city officials took ownership of the old Ohio Valley Medical Center property. Both police and fire departments are to have new quarters there.

One concern about Calabrese’s property was that it will require environmental cleanup. But state loan and/or grant funds may be available to cover the expense — if the city owns the site.

A measure authorizing that purchase — for $150,000 — is under consideration. That may not be the total price tag, however. If state cleanup funds are in the form of a loan, local taxpayers will be on the hook for that, too. No one really knows what environmental remediation will cost.

Public records indicate Calabrese bought the property in pieces, between 1997 and 2001, for a total of $58,862. No one but he knows how much he has spent since then at the site. Work there seems to have focused on keeping city code enforcement at bay.

Why purchase the property? “This is a great opportunity to prepare an almost 3-acre site for development,” commented City Manager Robert Herron.

It also is an opportunity for Calabrese to rid himself of a white elephant.

City officials argue that eventually, cleaning up the property would fall to taxpayers anyway. Perhaps so, but one wonders whether that would have involved a $150,000 payment for the site.

Are there not other dilapidated properties in Wheeling that, if cleaned up, could be attractive for development? What about the old Clay School in East Wheeling?

That hulking old building is beyond saving, but the enormous cost of tearing it down seems to have discouraged anyone in either the private or public sectors from taking on redevelopment of the land. Still, if state money is available for the 19th and Jacob site, why not the old Clay School?

It appears purchase of Calabrese’s property is all but a done deal. City officials view it as a win for taxpayers. My guess is that Calabrese feels pretty good about the deal, too.

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

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