East Liverpool Considers Redevelopment of Former Riverview Florist

EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio – An offer by a Georgia developer to purchase the former Riverview Florist property is being considered by the East Liverpool’s Community Improvement Corp., which met Tuesday to hear the proposal. 

Riverview Equity LLC, led by former local resident John Woomer, is offering $500,000 for the property, which consists of about 85 acres bordered by Park Way and Anderson Boulevard. Riverview Florist grew orchids in several greenhouses there and sold flowers in a showroom, which still exists at the edge of the property.

The CIC had approved an agreement with Woomer in 2019 for creation of a business park on the land in a partnership between the CIC and Capital Corporatum with a stipulation that the agreement could be dissolved if no project materialized within one year. 

Capital Corporatum had first offered in 2017 to buy the parcel for $300,000 for a “multi-use commercial business park,” but CIC members balked at what they called a “vague” proposal.

In calling together the CIC’s property committee and full board for the special meeting Tuesday, President Patrick Scafide said Woomer’s latest proposal had been received Friday and city law director Charles Payne had not seen it until Monday, so he recommended referring the matter to the property committee for further investigation.

The proposal calls for closing the sale on or before Sept. 30, or 30 days after issuance of a Land Disturbance Permit or at a time agreed upon by the parties. Committee member Ray Perorazio agreed further study sounds feasible, “as long as it’s not too late.”

Perorazio, also First Ward councilman, said he supports the sale provided a clause is included prohibiting de-annexation of the property, which was annexed into the city from Liverpool Township when purchased during the administration of Mayor Jim Swoger. 

Scafide said he believes the city would have to approve of any move to de-annex the land.

CIC Executive Director Bill Cowan said he sees no harm in including the clause requested by Perorazio. Cowan pointed to a stipulation in the agreement that calls for the seller – the CIC – to rezone the property for a multi-use business park including commercial, light industrial and manufacturing. However, zoning is not a function of the CIC and would have to be undertaken by the city, he said.

A question was also raised about a stipulation requiring the CIC to assist Woomer in the process of creating tax-free municipal bonds, with Scafide saying he needs more information on what will be required of the nonprofit organization. 

Perorazio asked if Woomer has divulged his plans for the property. Cowan responded that Woomer has not, other than to send an email indicating he anticipates job creation from its development.

The committee voted to forward the matter to the full CIC board for further investigation. In their meeting immediately afterward, the board agreed to explore the property sale, with Cowan encouraging members to bring any concerns to him. 

The city initially purchased the property for about $1.3 million with the intent to develop it. The sale was finalized with a $445,000 loan from the CIC secured from a local bank, as well as $95,000 from the organization’s own accounts. 

The city used mineral rights revenue and $1 million from the water department to pay for the property and to repay the loan to the CIC. The $1 million was repaid to the city from the water department for a water line project the city had funded. The water department was able to pay its obligation to the city with a portion of more than $6 million it was awarded in a breach of contract lawsuit against the Buckeye Water District.

Swoger, now a CIC member, voted in favor of exploring this most recent proposal, but indicated after the meeting his final approval of the sale could hinge on whether jobs will be created. 

“I’m all about jobs,” Swoger emphasized.

When the city transferred the property to the CIC in October 2013, then-President Sam Scafide said it could possibly be “a new beginning” for the land, but cautioned development would take time. 

In 2015, the property was classified as a planned unit development, which Cowan said after the meeting is “not as stringent” as other city zoning classifications inasmuch as almost any type of business can be started there, providing it meets certain criteria. The only restriction placed on the PUD, at the insistence of then-Councilman Sherrie Curtis, was no housing units. 

During the administration of Mayor Ryan Stovall, the property was considered by Velfera Auto Design for manufacture of electric cars. In 2018, his administration made a herculean to attract the TJX Companies Inc., offering to “gift” the land to the company in exchange for a 1.2 million-square-foot distribution center and the 1,000 jobs it would bring to the city. 

Neither of those projects came to fruition.

Mayor Greg Bricker questioned during Tuesday’s meeting if there has been any discussion about how Woomer plans on paying for or financing the property.

“It’s my understanding he’s just going to pay for it,” said member Al Fricano.

Scafide said he does not think it will require more than two weeks of investigation before another meeting is called.

Pictured: The showroom for the former Riverview Florist on Park Way still stands at the entrance to the 85-acre piece of property open for development in East Liverpool. 

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.