East Liverpool CIC Approves Downtown Land Purchase

EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio — The sale of six parcels of downtown property was approved for development this week by the city’s Community Improvement Corporation, but not without some opposition.

Members Ray Perorazio, also 1st Ward city councilman, and Connie Javens voted against the sale, while member Scott Shepherd abstained. With four members absent, seven members supported the move to sell the parcels to Kevin Kerr for $16,500.

The land, consisting of the former Dan’s Bar, former Pattison’s Jewelers and an empty lot on Sixth Street as well as a brick apartment building in the alleyway behind them, was acquired by the CIC through sheriff sales and other purchases. Kerr had initially offered $14,200, which was discussed at a previous CIC meeting. His offer had been taken under advisement at that time, partially due to members not knowing the exact amount the CIC had invested in acquiring the land.

At a CIC property committee meeting Wednesday, member and city Planning Director Bill Cowan reported he had since researched and found $16,478.83 was spent to acquire the properties. He sent Kerr an email earlier in the day, followed by a new offer by Kerr to pay $16,500 plus all closing costs.

Kerr had advised the CIC at its previous meeting that he and his wife intend to use the land to develop retail space, which he reiterated during Wednesday’s committee meeting when asked of his plans.

Kerr said he wants to first get inside the buildings to look at them with the hope of utilizing them. He said it is possible the former jewelry store might have to be razed, with a new steel building erected. Green space is planned for the empty lot, but Kerr did not outline plans for the apartment building.

Perorazio said he had heard others might be interested in the property, but Cowan said no other offers had been received.

East Liverpool Fire Department Chief Bill Jones spoke to the committee, saying his department would have been interested in the land for a new fire station. Central Fire Station has been deteriorating for some time, and construction of a new one, rather than repairs, has been discussed.

Jones has a grant application in the works, but it’s not a sure thing, he said.

“I’ve been pretty lucky in my career with grants,” he said, adding he thought the Sixth Street location would be the best for response time.

Member Al Fricano said he believes retail business is more advantageous to the downtown area, with a fire station located near the freeway better for response time.

Perorazio, a retired city firefighter, suggested an empty parcel at the corner of Jackson and Sixth streets would be a good location for a new fire station. Jones countered that while he doesn’t want to harm any new business, that parcel would have to be purchased by the fire department at a cost he is not sure its budget can afford.

Cowan pointed out the property in question was acquired with plans of developing it as retail property, with member Tom Clark, a city police captain, agreeing that, while a new fire station is needed, the property is better used as retail space.

From the audience, Councilman Craig Stowers asked if Central Station could be used as retail space if not used by the fire department.

His brother, Gregg Stowers asked, “How do you know if this is the best offer if you have never advertised [the property]?”

Cowan reiterated only that no other offer had been received, failing to answer the Stowerses.

After the meeting, Cowan was asked how the CIC markets the properties it acquires and whether they are advertised.

“We’ve never done that. We have a form we hand people if they’re interested,” he said.

When asked how people become interested in properties if they aren’t advertised, Cowan replied, “I don’t know how people hear about them.”

The former Riverview Florist property was placed on a county website as available “a long time ago,” Cowan recalled. He had not expected to receive an offer on the six parcels so soon after their acquisition, adding that he anticipated the buildings would be razed before then.

Cowan, who just recently returned to the city as its planning director, said, “We (the CIC) never really got into (acquiring) property before.”

Perorazio brought up concerns he voiced during previous discussions about the sale that, in the past, the CIC transferred property to a company in the East End with the idea it was to be developed, but no development ever occurred.

He asked whether a time limit could be levied in which Kerr would have to develop the property or relinquish it, saying, “Without some kind of penalty, I’ll have to vote no.”

The committee, with Perorazio opposed, voted to recommend the sale to the full board, which met immediately thereafter.

As promised, Perorazio voted against the measure, which was brought to a vote with no further discussion.

“I hope he does what he says. I don’t want to be in the same situation as before,” Perorazio reiterated.

After the meeting, Javens was asked the reason for her opposition.

“My heart is with the fire department,” she said, explaining her son-in-law is a city firefighter and adding she believes the Sixth Street property is the “best location for the fire department.”

Shepherd abstained due to being the architect working on the development project with Kerr.

After the meeting, Cowan said there has been conversation among members about the possibility of preparing a development agreement that would be used in cases like these, outlining terms and conditions of property sales and transfers.

“Ray had a legitimate concern,” he allowed.

Cowan produced a timeline offered up by Kerr, saying “It looks like he’s going to move pretty quick.”

According to the timeline, plans call for starting cleanout of the buildings by Nov. 17, followed Dec. 16 by interior demolition and drawing/planning.

Kerr anticipates securing necessary work permits by March, beginning interior work by April, the green space by July and occupancy by October of next year.

Kerr is owner of Veterans Energy Group, a construction company which has been instrumental in several of the demolition projects in the city. It was recently hired by the CIC to clean out the Thompson Building, another property acquisition aimed at economic development.

Pictured: These buildings and empty lot in East Liverpool will be sold for development to an area business owner. 

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.