EL Review Building Eyed for Police, Sports Multiplex Project

EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio — Plans are in the works to transform the now-vacant Review newspaper building on Fourth Street into a combination Municipal Court, police department and indoor multiplex sports facility.

The projected $11 million cost of the public/private project would be partially funded by Pittsburgh developer Craig Cozza and his local partner Randy Schneider, as well as through grants secured through the efforts of East Liverpool Municipal Court Judge Dominic Frank and a group of interested participants.

This informal work group includes architect Scott Shepherd, Bob Walker, Rob O’Hara, Drew Cooper of the East Liverpool Community Partnership for Revitalization, and consultants Tom Chema and Better City.

The group is looking at a variety of grant funding, possible capital from the state budget and contributions from East Liverpool High School alumni to make this project happen.

Randy Schneider and Scott Shepherd in front of the Review building in East Liverpool.

The Review building, constructed in 1949 in the art deco style, has been on the market for a short while, and the newspaper’s staff was moved to the Lisbon facility after the pandemic began earlier in the year, Schneider said.

“We have a written commitment from the (building owner) Nutting group to work with them on the sale price of the building once grants have been secured,” he said.

Cozza and Schneider are already partners in the renovation of a former bank on Fifth Street into Renovatio’s, an upscale restaurant and tap room, with opening anticipated within a few weeks.

When Frank’s first term as municipal judge began this year, he began looking at ways to streamline and update the court’s operation, including possibly relocating to another building, referring to the existing space in the 1934-era City Hall as “archaic.” He cited the scarcity of space when a jury trial is held, the lack of restroom facilities on the court’s floor and other problems with the layout of the building in relation to the court’s operation.

Frank noted he was at the mercy of the city administration recently when it decided to close down City Hall because of the pandemic. That left no access to his courtroom, which created some concerns about timely court cases. He has since reopened court, but with limited access by a side entrance and the elevator.

“When this building opened in 1934, people were probably in awe. But it’s not good today for the court or the police department. I’m trying to bring the court into the 21st century,” said Frank, who started his career as a police officer.

East Liverpool Municipal Court Judge Dominic Frank

Schneider works as a dispatcher with the East Liverpool Police Department. Currently, officers sit and eat their lunch and work on reports just feet from the prisoners, sitting handcuffed to a bench, Schneider said.

He confirmed that relocating the operation to the Review building has received the blessing of Chief John Lane, who Frank also said has worked with him on the plans.

Frank said preliminary plans call for the first floor of the Review building to house the police dispatcher’s office, chief’s office, courtroom, conference rooms for defendants and attorneys, a law office, clerk’s department and break room for employees.

Downstairs, the police department would provide a sally port and holding area so prisoners no longer have to be taken down a staircase or chained to a bench. It will also include an evidence room, training facilities for officers, an electronic indoor shooting range and other amenities they currently do not have in the basement of City Hall.

Frank said there is room in the building for file retention. “We won’t have to run around to three different buildings to find files like now,” he said.

Moving the municipal court and police department will provide easier access and create a safer environment for not only the public but officers and employees, he added. It will also allow the group to pursue certain grants, particularly those for security measures, which are only accessible if the two departments are self-contained in their own facility and not located in a municipal building, he said.

As a lifelong East Liverpool resident, Frank said it is important to him to preserve the history of the Review building while creating something which will promote interest in the community, and he believes this project will do just that.

“I’ve had a lot of chances to leave East Liverpool and never wanted to. The facility Craig (Cozza) is looking at would be a boon for this community. We’ve been working hard behind the scenes (to obtain the grant funding),” Frank said.

Renovating the existing building to house the court and police department operations is expected to account for $2.5 million of the total cost, Frank said. He anticipates meeting this week with a grant writer to learn what funding is available and said it would probably be late winter or early spring before any funding might be awarded.

The idea for an indoor sports complex in the city has been bandied about for some time with several locations considered, Shepherd said. The challenge, he noted, has been finding the right partners to make it happen.

“I called Scott and said, ‘Why not get the ball rolling?’ and we consulted with Craig on a conference call,” he said.

Cozza already has several sports complexes in the Pittsburgh area, Schneider said, so he seemed a likely candidate to tap for ideas. While he and Cozza sat on the rooftop deck at Renovatio’s, sharing cigars, Cozza suggested “building up” and the idea for the glass-fronted multiplex on top the Review building was born.

A feasibility study conducted this fall appears to support the project, they said.

Plans call for multi-use courts for basketball, volleyball and soccer, with a sports medicine department located on the first floor of the building. The glass front will allow those passing by on the highway to look up and see people using the indoor facilities.

“It will be an eye-opener,” Schneider said. The building itself is “in great shape,” he added.

Fourth Street in East Liverpool is being resurfaced with new bricks as part of an on-going downtown revitalization effort.

“It will have to have some structural work to support what we do above,” Schneider said. “It’s one of those iconic buildings downtown you have to find a new use for, and this works out really well.”

The location also fits into downtown revitalization effort begun in the past few years. That effort includes renovation of two abandoned buildings into the New Castle School of Trades, construction of Market Street Lofts, a revised intersection near Kent State University East Liverpool campus and improvements to the university building, ongoing construction of a new post office nearby, reconstruction of the historic brick streets, several new small businesses and the Renovatio’s project.

“That’s where Craig’s development experience comes into play,” Schneider said, saying his theory is to start at one end of the city and develop it then flow into the next, prompting other new businesses to come in.

Shepherd smiled as he said the usually quiet downtown was alive recently with the sound of jackhammering as the sidewalk outside his building was repaired. Work also progressed on the new post office that day and workers prepared Fourth Street for relaying new brick.

“Someone said, ‘It’s too noisy downtown.’ How often do you hear that?” Shepherd said.

In what he called “normal” times, Shepherd estimated it might be a year before all funding could be put into place and the project completed, but the pandemic has caused some funding to be re-routed and delays in many aspects of such projects.

“Realistically, in the next year or two, we should hit the ground with the first phase of it,” Schneider predicted.

Pictured at top: The Review building, built in 1949 in the art deco style, is being eyed as the new East Liverpool Municipal Court and police department as well as an indoor sports complex.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.