Donations target blighted properties

NEW CUMBERLAND – At an August summit on blighted buildings in Hancock County, officials heard that money for demolitions is scarce. “There is no free money out there,” said conference organizer Luke Elser, of the Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center. At Thursday's meeting of Hancock County commissioners, those same officials came as close as they'll ever get to “free money” for the dilapidated, vacant buildings in their communities. Article Photos DONATION MADE — A $25,000 donation from Huntington National Bank, plus a match from the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, will go toward the elimination of blighted properties in Chester, New Cumberland and Weirton. Pictured are, from left, BDC Assistant Director Marvin Six, BDC Executive Director Patrick Ford, Luke Elser of the Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center, Hancock County Commissioner Jeff Davis, BDC board member Bob Reed, New Cumberland Mayor Linda McNeil, Chester Mayor Larry Forsythe, Huntington Bank Vice President Lisa Quattrochi, Commissioner Joe Barnabei and Commissioner Mike Swartzmiller. 
— Stephen Huba   A $25,000 donation from Huntington National Bank, plus a $25,000 match from the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, will create an unprecedented pot of money for the cities of Chester, New Cumberland and Weirton for nuisance building rehabilitation. “Huntington Bank was looking for a way to invest in community development here in Hancock County,” Vice President Lisa Quattrochi said. Quattrochi contacted BDC Executive Director Patrick Ford after the August BAD Building Summit in which community leaders discussed ways to address the issue of blight in small cities in the Northern Panhandle – cities that normally don't have the financial resources to raze or rehabilitate condemned homes and commercial properties. “(Huntington Bank) saw that the cities in Hancock County were very interested in working together to address the number of 'BAD' buildings in the area,” Ford said. The acronym BAD stands for brownfields, abandoned and dilapidated buildings. At the summit, Chester Mayor Larry Forsythe said there were at least a dozen properties in the city that should be demolished. Most of them are vacant homes owned by absentee or irresponsible landlords. New Cumberland Mayor Linda McNeil has said that the county seat probably has 40 buildings that could be considered nuisance properties. The city has pursued remediation by seeking the cooperation of the owners – part of a larger strategy to spur economic development and make New Cumberland more attractive to businesses. Ford said the $50,000 will be distributed according to the needs and priorities of the three communities. A follow-up summit sometime this winter will give city leaders a chance to present their lists of their most problem properties, he said. Assistant Director Marvin Six said the BDC will look at how the targeted properties satisfy the following criteria: health and safety, economic development, blight and gateway appearance. Commissioner Mike Swartzmiller said the county wants to offer the cities technical assistance through its Abandoned Building Ordinance Committee, which addresses similar issues in the unincorporated parts of Hancock County. City officials have complained that the cost of demolition for one house – $6,000 to $8,000 – is prohibitive. Communities that raze properties often are left holding the bag because the cost of demolition exceeds the value of the property. What's more, communities that put liens on properties rarely are able to recover their expenses. Also Thursday, commissioners: Forwarded a $62,150 state grant to the Hancock County Parks and Recreation Board for the construction of a restroom/concession facility at the Gas Valley Sports Complex. Entered into agreements with the Community Participation Grant Program to receive $5,000 for a lighting project at Laurel Hollow Park (Newell Community Improvement Coalition) and $2,000 for the purchase of equipment and supplies for the Juvenile Mediation Program. Authorized the Office of Emergency Management to apply for grants from the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety for the purchase of radio equipment that will be compatible with the State Interoperable Radio Network. The grants are funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and will be the first phase in upgrading radios for all police, fire and ambulance services in the county. Hired Brian Allison as a part-time dispatcher for the 911 Dispatch Center effective Thursday. Authorized the Hancock County Sheriff's Reserve to accept George Willis, of Newell, as a new member. Entered into a contract with Juszczak Construction for the demolition of a vacant house at 514 Pyramus Road in Lawrenceville.

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