County invites Port to move office to Lisbon

EAST LIVERPOOL – The Columbiana County Port Authority is being asked to relocate to Lisbon and become part of a new office building county commissioners want to construct on the site where the former welfare office currently stands.

Commissioner Tim Weigle attended Monday’s port authority board meeting and asked them to consider relocating to Lisbon as part of the plan, and in return commissioners would forgive $373,000 the port authority owes them.

“We’re extending that offer to you,” he said.

The offer appeared to catch Port Authority Chief Executive Officer Tracy Drake by surprise. “It’s something we’ll talk about and consider,” Drake said, adding that while consolidating operations under the same roof as the county development department makes sense, he is concerned the move might shift the port authority’s “chief focus” away from developing the Ohio River corridor.

While that may be the port authority’s original purpose when created in the late 1970s, it has evolved into a de facto county-wide economic development agency, creating and operating industrial parks in Leetonia and Wellsville and helping with projects in Leetonia, Columbiana and Salem.

Commissioners plan to demolish the former welfare office building in downtown Lisbon, which was vacated last year when the Department of Job and Family Services relocated to the new county government services building. Weigle said commissioners are considering building a new office complex on the site and moving the development department there.

“If you know where our development office is now, it’s pretty small,” he told the board.

Weigle said it makes sense to have the development department and port authority under the same roof since they are both working toward the same goal of creating jobs through development. “Everything could be in one office, where we can all work together,” he said.

The port authority offices are in the former Patterson Industries building. Last October Weigle questioned whether it was worth continuing to repair the 100-year-old structure because of deterioration problems a study estimated would cost $300,000 to address. Drake went ahead and

spent $92,00 to repair a crumbling section of brick wall.

As part of the offer, commissioners would forgive $373,000 loaned to the port authority as part of the financial package for the B-Telecom project at the Leetonia industrial park. The contract with B-Telecom was later canceled when the company failed to fulfill its obligations, and a new IT firm was hired in its place.

Weigle said they intend to redevelop the property regardless of whether the port authority comes along, although the size would depend on the board’s decision. “We just don’t want to leave a vacant hole in the middle of Lisbon,” he said.

Board President Charlie Presley asked Weigle to provide them with a timetable on when they plan to act and how soon they would need a reply.