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Villamagna still pursuing public market proposal

IMPROVEMENTS — A new roof is going on the old city building, but Steubenville city officials say they can’t promise there will be money in the next budget to do anything more. (Photo by Linda Harris)

STEUBENVILLE — Sixth Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna is still hoping to find a way to turn the old city building into a public market.

Villamagna said grant funding might be available, particularly now that the city is putting a new roof on the building.

“There’s some grants available for projects like this,” Villamagna said. “But we have to have some skin in the game. With us putting a roof on the old building, there’s a chance we can get a grant to cover the architectural design — and once we have the architectural design done, there are some grants we can get to get the building actually started a little further down the road.”

Villamagna in March 2019 had proposed moving Steubenville Municipal Court offices into the space previously occupied by the police department, then turning the rest of the building into a market house similar to Wheeling’s Centre Market. He’d had consultants tour the building to ensure it was structurally sound and had gathered cost estimates, hoping the city would be in position to move forward in the 2021 budget year, but revenue losses caused by COVID-19 closures and job losses may force council to adjust its spending priorities.

Budget hearings begin in two weeks, at which point council as a whole will have a better feel for the city’s financial future.

“I can’t really promise anything until we conduct the budget hearings,” said 5th Ward Councilman Willie Paul, who chairs council’s finance committee. “This is the most challenging budget process that I have been involved with in my nine years on council. We will just have to wait and see until we are provided with all the expenditures and encumbrances for the end of year.”

Villamagna, though, said there are grant opportunities that could help, including some through JobsOhio.

“I just met with a guy about a week ago,” Villamagna said. “We walked down Third Street, he liked what was going on … and said it’s a perfect area for economic development.”

Villamagna said the individual “sounded pretty positive.”

“Putting the roof on the building is huge, they want us to be involved in projects, too,” he added. “I feel that the state of Ohio, through the JobsOhio program, could help us get grants to proceed a little further with the market project. It’s definitely not dead.”

Municipal Judge John Mascio several months ago toyed with the idea of moving his offices to the Jefferson County justice center but nixed that idea when he found out he couldn’t have daily access to a courtroom.

Villamagna said municipal court staying in the old city building isn’t a big deal.

“It just made the project smaller, that’s all,” he said. “I would have liked to have the whole building, but there’s nothing that can be done about that. He needed to be able to use the courtroom full time, the parties couldn’t come to an agreement. There’s nowhere else for him to go.”

But Villamagna said the market house “would be a catalyst for other development.”

“I think it has a lot of potential to bring other stuff here,” he said. “And with its location, state Route 7 is so close — that’s huge.”

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