What could become of two city-owned properties the municipality propped up for grabs three years ago?
One property is along Main Street and directly across the street from the future Health Plan headquarters, and the other is the former Keg & Kraut in East Wheeling, once a fairly successful eatery until it closed in 2006. The three-story Main Street parcel housed Tom’s Pizza on street level for more than a decade, and the Keg & Kraut opportunity on 16th Street involves three structures.
“If we have property that we want to put out there for development or re-development, we do a request-for-proposal process, and typically that is good for a year or two,” explained Wheeling City Manager Bob Herron. “And if no one responds to it immediately, we also allow those interested to come to us with their ideas, and that’s when we allow them to make their proposal.
“We’ve been hoping for more proposals for both of the properties for a few years, and now that we have some, the committee will move forward,” he said. “The process is easy to understand.”
The City Council Development Committee comprises three members: Mayor Andy McKenzie, Vice Mayor and Ward 6 councilman Gene Fahey, and Ward 1 Councilwoman Gloria Delbrugge. Wheeling’s mayor is automatically the committee chair per the City Charter.
If the committee members approve of a proposal, the property is either sold or offered free of charge. Either way Herron would orchestrate the ownership transfer to the city’s development company, the Ohio Valley Area Development Corp., so the municipality could avoid a state statute that mandates public auction.
This avenue, Herron said, allows for public discussion during the monthly meetings of the City Council Development Committee.
“The last time we had a property proposal through an RFP process was in South Wheeling, and that property was sold to the interested party,” Herron said. “On some occasions, though, we do provide the property at no cost. It just depends on the proposal.
“Anytime we transfer property, we always put a reversionary clause in the contract in case the individual or developer doesn’t perform; then the property comes back to the city,” the city manager continued. “That has happened in the past, and that’s OK. We just place the property on the available list again.”
Four proposals were presented to the development committee last week, and each involved adding commerce, but only two suggested residential.
A pair of proposals was heard for the Tom’s Pizza location, one from Wilfred Spencer and the other from Sarel Venter. Spencer envisions a restaurant on the ground level and office space above, and Venter hopes to develop a new Main Street storefront and residential on the top floors.
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The Keg n’ Kraut location rests adjacent to the J.B. Chambers Recreation Park, a complex that has welcomed thousands of residents from throughout the Upper Ohio Valley since opening nearly two years ago. Two retail stores are close to the facility, but the closest full-menu restaurant is the American Legion Post 1 at 86 16th Street.
Under development at this time on the corner of 16th and Wood streets is a new location for Enterprise Car Rental. Its current location is at 17th and Jacob streets, and the move is anticipated in the spring.
McKenzie, Fahey, and Delbrugge heard from Larry Witzberger, owner of the ASAP Auto Repair shop on 16th and Jacob Streets, and local contractor Adam Bedway and Beth Patsch.
“The two properties that were discussed during the last meeting both bring with them opportunities, but I can tell you that both properties do need some work because they have been empty for some time now,” Herron said. “There is another development committee meeting scheduled by the end of this month, and I expect there will be a recommendation that is sent from the committee to the full city council.”
Witzberger’s proposal includes the renovation of the structure that housed the German restaurant, and for the demolitions of the two additional structures to make way for a used car lot that would include renting U-Haul trucks. Witzberger’s proposal included the potential for commercial space, a restaurant, and possible housing.
Bedway and Patsch suggested the rehabilitation of all three buildings for an eatery, and future housing and retail space. Bedway, who has worked in the construction industry for the past 14 years, said upon his inspection he did not find that the buildings were in desperate shape. He reported that the plumbing is fairly new, the electrical would need re-organizing, but the wiring is modern, and the interior would need gutted to make way for the new ideas.
“Beth and I are getting to a point where we want to invest in something. There’s currently a housing shortage in the downtown area, so the apartment building would remedy at least a little of that,” Bedway said. “East Wheeling is a great neighborhood because of its walkability to all things downtown.
“The Keg and Kraut building and the attached structures are an important gateway to our community and to downtown. Think of how many people drive by those buildings every single day,” he continued. “Our community needs to make a good first impression right there.”