An old, blighted structure in Wellston’s south end, located at 1208 S. Pennsylvania Ave., which once housed bars like Coop’s, Riepenhoff’s, and Big Jay’s, was one of dozens of properties included in the Jackson County Land Reutilization Corporation’s (Land Bank’s) list of proposed demolition projects submitted to the Ohio Department of Development (ODD) earlier this year in an effort to secure roughly $700,000 in grant funding through the Building Demolition and Site Revitalization Program.

However, after hearing a proposal from Wellston resident Richard Harris, Jr. during a meeting held June 28, Land Bank Board members are now at least open to the idea of moving in an entirely different direction.

Rather than having the building torn down, Harris has proposed renovating it himself to ultimately open a restaurant. He asked the Land Bank to gift him the property at no charge, and in return, he agreed to obtain a quote from local contractor Harry Sutcliffe for the site’s demolition. That amount of money would then be held in escrow by the Land Bank for an agreed-upon period of 90 days, during which Harris would bring the building up to code. If he is successful in those efforts, that money would be returned to Harris, but if he fails to follow through for whatever reason, that money would be used to demolish the structure.

Some possible snags with Harris’ plan mentioned during the meeting include the potential presence of asbestos in the building, which Gary Radabaugh, a Registered Sanitarian with the Jackson County Health Department, and a consultant for the Land Bank, says could result in demolition costs increasing by as much as 50 percent. Further, Jackson Mayor and Land Bank Board member Randy Evans noted a project of this magnitude would likely require the acquisition of state permits, which could take quite some time to obtain.

Overall, Wellston Mayor and Land Bank Board member Charlie Hudson said, so long as Harris is willing to assume all the risk by putting his own money in escrow, he is fine with the idea, especially since it could potentially save one of his city’s buildings from being demolished.

No official action was taken by the Land Bank on this matter, and the group was still awaiting the final determination from the ODD regarding the roughly $700,000 in grant funding at the time of the June 28 meeting. Should Harris’ plan come to fruition, the money that would have been used to demolish the 1208 S. Pennsylvania Ave. site in the ODD grant would possibly be able to be used elsewhere.

Harris told Board members he would contact Sutcliffe and find out more about a possible asbestos study prior to discussing the matter further.

The next meeting of the Land Bank is set for Tuesday, July 26 at 10:45 a.m. That meeting will be held at the new office of the Jackson County Commissioners at the rear of the Jackson County Job and Family Services facility on South Street in Jackson.