BDC helping communities in Brooke and Hancock counties eradicate blight

The Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle is helping rid communities in West Virginia's Northern Panhandle counties of Brooke and Hancock of their blighted housing. The BDC is currently working with the City of Weirton and Weirton Christian Center to demolish one abandoned downtown structure and is teaming with the city to address two others. “(It's) our third abandoned house we have addressed in the panhandle,” BDC Executive Director Pat Ford said. “It really is a good opportunity to work with our partners in Weirton to spark some revitalization. It's not going to be a silver bullet. But I think our housing effort, coupled with our re-purposing of abandoned factories in Brooke and Hancock counties, can provide an impetus for some strategic revitalization efforts.” BDC Chairman Bill D'Alesio said the initiative will be a boon to Northern Panhandle communities “because we just do not have enough money to take care of all of these homes that have been abandoned.” D'Alesio said abandoned homes cause property values to decline, which can not only be detrimental to nearby property owners but also affects the community's ability to recruit business and industry. “It's also a safety issue,” adds Weirton Mayor George Kondik, pointing out that not only can kids can get hurt exploring them but miscreants also can use them for illicit activities. Ford said Wells Fargo, the international banking and financial services company, acquires some houses after they have been foreclosed and, through its Community Urban Stabilization Program, partners with faith-based and other nonprofit groups to eliminate blight and make housing available to people with low- to moderate-incomes. He said the BDC is currently looking at six residential properties in Brooke and Hancock counties to raze or renovate — two in Beech Bottom and one in Wellsburg, in addition to the three Weirton properties. Funding is through Wells Fargo, Hancock County Savings Bank and the Benedum Foundation. “Communities up and down our panhandle continue to struggle with the negative effects of vacant and blighted homes, which in turn add to increased foreclosures and weaken neighborhood revitalization efforts,” said Hancock County Commission President Mike Swartzmiller. “The BDC is pleased to work with panhandle officials to eliminate neighborhood blight.” To date, the BDC has re-purposed a number of Weirton properties, including the former Weirton Heights Volunteer Fire Station on Pennsylvania Avenue, the former Jimmy Carey Stadium on Orchard Street, and the former Weirton Steel surplus properties on Three Springs Drive.