Warren can’t afford to tear down old St. Joseph hospital

During the visit to the Mahoning Valley in August to announce a major statewide initiative to eradicate blight, Attorney General Mike DeWine declared, “We want to save neighborhoods.”

Out of the $75 million in the Moving Ohio Forward Grant Program, Mahoning County received $1.5 million, while Trumbull County got $1.2 million.

The cities of Youngstown and Warren captured most of the money because of the large of number of dilapidated structures that need to be torn down.

We recalled the attorney general’s visit and his pledge to help as we read the front page story Sunday with the headline, “Leaders seek cure for blight at former hospital.”

The story detailed the challenges facing the city Warren as its tries to tackle one of the biggest eyesores in the community, the former St. Joseph Riverside Hospital on Tod Avenue Northwest.

“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,” said Bob Weitzel, president of the Northwest Neighborhood Association. Weitzel’s daughter was born in St. Joseph when the hospital was the “crown jewel” of the West Side.

Warren city government officials have tried to get the owner, Slavo Stefanovic of Euro-American Financial Network of Leesburg, Fla., to tear down the crumbling, unsafe structure, but he has thumbed his nose as them.

Stefanovic has told the city he has no money and asked. “Why don’t you demolish it?”

The cost of demolition will be more than $1 million, which Warren does not have.

And even if it were able to come up with the dollars to demolish the complex, the city would have a difficult time recovering the money from the owner.

Not so the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, which has an army of highly qualified, highly motivated lawyers who would relish the idea of making an example of this out-of-state property owner.

“These are the kinds of people who destroy cities,” said Bob Pinti, Warren’s deputy health commission of Stefanovic.

Blight spreads

Attorney General DeWine has seen first hand what happens to once stable neighborhoods when blight is not eradicated quickly. The deterioration is exacerbated when the structure is 240,000 square feet.

The city is exploring legal options and will determine if there are grants to finance the demolition of the former hospital. The city secured a grant to pay for tearing down the Morningside power plant, long an eyesore in Warren.

But, the former St. Joseph Hospital complex is too large a project for Warren to take on alone, which is why we urge Attorney General DeWine to assist Mayor Doug Franklin in forcing the owner, Stefanovic, to do what’s right as a property owner.

And if he responds in the same way he did when approached by the city, the state should use its immense power to go after him — in a court of law.

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