By Ed Runyan
Warren has lost a third of its population in the last 40 years, so it’s not surprising that it has many empty homes, factories and other buildings.
From the former Delphi Packard Electric facilities on Dana and Griswold streets to drug houses to the former Parkman Road Shopping Center, vacant properties were problems former Mayor Michael O’Brien faced during his administration.
For Mayor Doug Franklin, who took office about a year ago, the next big eyesore to target is the former St. Joseph Riverside Hospi- tal on Tod Avenue Northwest.
Depressing conditions inside the building include a flooded basement, open elevator doors revealing a 15-foot drop and trash everywhere.
It was about 32 years ago that the front entrance of the hospital was renovated, evidenced by an iron plaque reading “A.D. 1980” for the date it was completed.
But that same entrance is plastered with sheets of plywood now, an attempt by city officials to keep out vandals, kids and scrap thieves.
“My daughter was born here. It was the crown jewel of the West Side, but today it’s far from any crown jewel,” said Bob Weitzel, president of the Northwest Neighborhood Association.
“The main problem with all of these buildings is that people out of state buy them as an investment and don’t put any money into them, and nobody does anything until they get into this condition,” Weitzel said.
He pointed across Tod Avenue to the vacant Pamela Apartments as another example of the problem. Weitzel said the city needs to conduct annual inspections on buildings that have recently become vacant to prevent them from being vandalized.
“This brings crime into our area. This brings drugs into our area,” Weitzel said of blighted properties.
“They’ve got to do something to solidly secure it,” he said. “The worry is that kids could get killed or raped. That’s the last thing we want to hear is some kid died in the building.”
Police officers pass through the hospital area several times per day. And despite the extra plywood and screws applied to broken doors and windows two weeks ago, vandals still manage to get in.
Police arrested two men two weeks ago — one from Warren and one from Windham — after they broke into the structure and took scrap metal.
Bob Pinti, Warren’s deputy health commissioner, said Weitzel is right to be concerned about the safety of anyone entering the building and the problems associated with out-of-state owners.
“I wouldn’t recommend anyone going into the building. There are mold issues — the mold people refer to as black mold,” Pinti said. “It’s damp. It’s dark, so it’s not safe to be in the building without the proper safety equipment.”
The health department, which condemned the building Nov. 16, sent health inspectors inside recently in protective suits with breathing equipment. They were unable to travel through all of the building because of unsafe conditions, Pinti said.
“I think we’re making an aggressive effort to keep the building secure, even though it’s not ours,” Pinti said. “We’ve notified the owner of the condition.”
Slavo Stefanovic, owner of Euro-American Financial Network of Leesburg, Fla., purchased the 240,000-square-foot building in January 2010. Records from the Trumbull County Auditor’s Office list the sale price at $600,000, though Pinti said he believes the price was $250,000.
Pinti said city officials contacted Stefanovic and persuaded him to come to Warren in the summer of 2011 to see some of the problems, but Stefanovic didn’t seem too concerned.
“He was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s bad,’ but there was no action,” Pinti said. The city started sending notices to Stefanovic in October 2011, asking him to cut the grass and keep the building secure.
“He’s not complied with anything,” Pinti said.
In the most recent conversation Pinti had, Stefanovic said he “had no money,” and asked, “Why don’t you demolish it?”
Pinti said removing just the asbestos in the building would cost more than $1 million.
“It’s going to be astronomical to take that building down,” Pinti said.
“These are the kinds of people who destroy cities,” Pinti said of Stefanovic.
As for renovation, Pinti said that cost also would be high, and the uses for an old hospital might be limited compared to factory space.
With no help from Stefanovic, the city and Northwest Neighbors have stepped in to cut grass and board up the building.
“No city wants to have a building like this dumped on them,” Pinti said. “We’re going to try to keep the grounds safe until we can decide what to do with it.”
The city is looking at legal options relating to Stefanovic, as well as grants that might help with demolition, such as the ones that helped the city remove the former Mahoningside power plant on Summit Street.
The former St. Joseph Riverside Hospital staff relocated to the former Warren General Hospital on Eastland Avenue in 1996.
In the years after, the building was known as Riverside Square and housed a variety of professional offices, a private school and a commercial laundry.
The Dobson brothers, Tom and Jim, bought it in 2003 and ran into problems with the building’s alarm system, which the city said needed to be replaced. It had 11 tenants at the time. The Dobsons sold it in 2008, and it has changed hands twice since then.
In Youngstown, the Mahoning County commissioners purchased and renovated the former Southside Medical Center on Oak Hill Avenue to use as a county office building. And the former Cafaro Memorial Hospital on Youngstown’s North Side is now home of Ohio Valley Teen Challenge.