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Steve Novotney Says ... "Yes, Even the Rogers Hotel"

You may think I'm a little nuts when you read this, but … I believe the Rogers Hotel in downtown Wheeling could become an asset instead of a liability in the Friendly City.

The current owner of the six-floor building on 14th Street is Mark Jaber, and he claims to be a real estate developer from Akron, Ohio. He has owned it for about 10 years, and only occasionally can a couple of workers be seen on the property. His relationship with the city of Wheeling is a contentious one because of the snail-slow pace at which improvements have been made to the building.

The roof was repaired, a creek-stone façade was plastered to the front, and he had to fix a partial collapse on the southeast corner of the structure after bricks fell onto the 7/Eleven parking lot. But hey, Jaber paid only $3,000 for the Rogers at an auction back in 2005

In 2012, in fact, his attorneys filed a complaint in Ohio County Circuit Court because Jaber claimed at the time that city officials were conspiring to cut him out and demolish the 103-year-old building. The defense didn't work; he got fined and actually paid it.

If demolition project is ever publicly discussed, I would oppose it because of a belief it has a lot of potential if owned by the right party. Edward Bates Franzheim designed a plethora of buildings in Wheeling, including the Stifel Fine Arts Center, the Board of Trade, the Professional Building, the Howell Mansion, the Capitol Theatre, and, yes, the Rogers Hotel. Complete with 75 rooms, a barber shop, and a tavern, the hotel opened for business in 1914.

And yes, it was promoted as fireproof, and each room had its own bathroom and, during the later years, wall-based telephones. The Rogers Hotel closed in 1990, inspectors for the city deemed it condemned in 1994, and Jaber bought it for $3,000 in 2005. The owner has told media members he wants to open a restaurant on the building's first floor, but a look through the windows reveals a space absent of renovation of any sort.

What the property needs is an owner who is HERE and is serious about the project because this location could contain eight loft apartments with a lobby, a tavern, and a gym.

There is that much space.

You and I, well, we take the eyesore for granted these days, and we don't look at the Rogers Hotel because we're doing our very best to be positive despite the negatives we confront each day. The Rogers remains ugly because of neglect and lack of effort, in my opinion, but now it's a skeleton waiting to be sculpted to a form that works for today. A resident living there, though, could stroll up 14th Street to Good Mansion Wines, grab some snacks from the neighboring convenient store, or take short walks to River City Restaurant or the Vagabond Kitchen or jaunts to the Bridge Tavern or to the Centre Market District.

Potential.

"The bones of the building are good," confirmed Dave Palmer, a Wheeling Council member who was an inspector for the Wheeling Fire Department before serving as a code enforcement officer for the city of Wheeling. "With that said, I think it would take a lot of money to bring that building back to where it can be used again. It was neglected for a long time, but at least the present owner did something about the roof. That was a big problem.

"I was also happy to see the owner took steps to keep the pigeons out because that was an issue for a lot of years," he continued. "No one wants to see it get taken down, but like I said, I think it take a lot of dollars to do anything with it."

Palmer is correct, of course, but The Woda Group is expending millions to transform the former Boury Warehouse into a loft apartment complex, Kevin Duffin has made an enormous investment to renovate the Flat Iron Building, and whoever purchases the Rogers will need to do the same.

Oh, to win the Powerball …

  • First floor – Completely restored to how the Rogers Hotel Lobby once appeared during the lodge's heyday.
  • Second to Fifth Floors – Eight one-level apartments complete with living rooms, dining areas, and kitchens, and a large, open space, and two bedrooms and a sizable bathroom toward the rear of the units.
  • Sixth Floor – Half community gym, the other half a community room for parties and meetings for the tenants, and a spacious deck built off the west wall of the building.
  • Roof – made safe and available for roof-top gardening.

At least that is what I see as possible, and I do wish I were able to make it happen, but certainly someone out there has more financial resources than does a small-town journalist without that winning ticket, right? The return on the investment will take time because of the financial obligations it would take to turn the building into an asset instead of the liability it is today.

Would Jaber sell?

That, I believe, is what he is waiting for and why he's placated city officials for more than a decade.

Categories: Commentary