American Legion Post 1 seeks $400,000 to upgrade Italian American Club building in Elm Grove | News, Sports, Jobs


John Powell, former Commanding Officer of the American Legion Department of West Virginia, addresses the crowd during a Veterans Day ceremony at WesBanco Arena in 2021. (Photo by Eric Ayres)

American Legion Post 1 plans to invest over $400,000 to revamp the Italian American Club in Elm Grove.

Post 1 will host an event at 1 p.m. Wednesday at the IAC building to officially announce its purchase of the building, give tours of its condition, and announce a fundraising initiative to raise more than $400,000 for needed improvements.

Post 1 actually began the process of buying the IAC building more than five years ago, according to John Powell, a former state commander who is now president of the Post 1 Home Corporation. The entity’s role is to ensure that Post 1 has a place to serve local veterans, he said.

Post 1 currently has no home, but exists “suitcases all over town,” according to Powell.

Members have been meeting at the IAC building for two years.

About five years ago, members of the Italian American Club approached Post 1 with an interest in selling the building, Powell said.

“They wanted it to go to an organization that would keep it as it was used,” he explained. “They wanted it to still be able to be rented out and used by the public to raise money through weddings and things like that.”

Over time, a purchase price was agreed upon, Powell continued.

Post 1 paid the IAC a base of $20,000 for the 6,080 square foot building and its property. In return, the IAC must get at least $7,000 of free use there every year “as long as they exist,” Powell said.

Over 20 years, the price is $160,000.

“They’re relieved of ownership and we get ownership,” he explained.

A plaza in the building will be designated as a place to place IAC artifacts in remembrance of the structure’s history, according to Powell.

“We’re going to preserve that one way or another,” he said. “The IAC letters will remain on the building in one form or another.”

Although Post 1 may own the building, it makes sense to leave the signage because “everyone knows where the IAC building is,” Powell noted.

The bad news is that the building was built over 30 years ago,” and it is showing wear and tear, he continued.

“There is no insulation in the building,” he said. “The toilets need to be renovated. There is a lot of work to do.

“We contacted some contractors and to do all the work we need to do, the current price is around $400,000.”

Powell admitted the cost made him sick after hearing it.

Post 1 is providing the first $50,000 for the renovation from its own funds, and it will ask the community to donate the additional money needed.

Fundraising on Wednesday marks the start of the effort.

“If we can raise funds, the benefits to the public and the community will be the reward,” he said.

It is planned to paint the building. A member of Poste 1 who is a professional painter offered to do the job for free if Poste 1 buys the paint.

A former steak pit near the parking lot could also be converted into an outdoor wedding chapel, according to Powell.

There will be landscaping and paving of the parking lot.

And the planned restroom upgrades aren’t last on the list.

“Bathrooms smell like 20 years ago,” Powell said.

The American Legion is founded on four pillars: Americanism, Veterans Care, Child Care, and National Security.

“I can’t think of another building in Wheeling that screams kids and youth more than this building – with all the ball diamonds and kids’ activities around there,” Powell said. “I want this building to be the center of things that happen there.”

Station 1 has about 350 members, but Powell points out that’s only about 10 percent of the 3,500 veterans he says live in Ohio County.

Attracting members is important to the organization because veterans who come to Legion posts are made aware of the benefits to which they are entitled.

Veterans contribute $2 billion a year to West Virginia’s economy, according to Powell. When they do not receive the benefits due to them, the state loses, he continued.

“The American Legion was never founded as a ‘canteen,'” Powell explained. “He was found as a group to care for veterans, children and America.

“However, over the years when you say American Legion to a veteran, it has come to mean a smoky old bar room full of veterans and cheap drinks. This is not the purpose of the American Legion.

Many Legion posts are moving away from the bars and looking to focus on the four pillars, he continued.

“The canteen or the bar is a losing proposition,” Powell said. “If you don’t have the (gaming) machines, you don’t make money.”

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