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Gateway to the community

Grand opening ceremonies held for Franciscan Square Best Western Plus

NEW ADDITION  TO THE CITY — Grand opening ceremonies were held at the Inn at Franciscan Square Best Western Plus on University Boulevard today. The new 113-guest room hotel sits directly across from the main entrance to the Franciscan University of Steubenville. - Dave Gossett

STEUBENVILLE — Representatives from Franciscan University of Steubenville joined with city, county, state and federal officials today to officially unveil the 113 guest rooms of the Inn at Franciscan Square during 11 a.m. grand opening ceremonies.

The four-story Best Western Plus hotel sits on a 13-acre site on University Boulevard that once was home to the Franklin Avenue post office and a city landfill.

“With the opening of the Inn at Franciscan Square and the ongoing work on the nearby state Route 7 interchange, a dramatic transformation of an important gateway to Steubenville is taking shape before our eyes,” said David Skiviat, vice president of finance and administration at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony included remarks from Franciscan University President the Rev. Sean Sheridan, TOR; Steubenville Mayor Domenick Mucci; Jefferson County Commissioner Tom Gentile; state Sen. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville; Paul Mitchell, field representative for U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta; and Skiviat.

The Rev. Nathan Malavolti, TOR, vice president of pastoral care and evangelization for Franciscan University, offered an opening prayer while the chairman of the university board of trustees, the Rev. Richard Davis, TOR, blessed the property and vice president of sales and marketing for Prospera Hospitality in Pittsburgh, Don Andrezjwski, handed the keys to the Inn at Franciscan Square to university officials.

Franciscan University Executive Director of Community Relations Mike Florak provided closing remarks at the private ceremony.

The university paid the city $2.9 million for the 13-acre “Green Strip” and the Belleview Golf Course in 2006.

“There were a number of meetings and conversations as we envisioned an area of opportunity to be developed here. We knew there was a need for hospitality in Steubenville close to the university. We had a series of discussions for the first three to four years and spoke to three different developers as we worked to put together this project. In the end it was the people of this community working together that made this all work,” Skiviat explained.

A ground-breaking ceremony was held on the “Green Strip” property in May 2015, when Sheridan predicted the development will transform the city and its development organizations.

“We believe this activity will not only allow us to continue with future phases of the Franciscan Square Development, such as a meeting center, retail space and office space, but will spark a broader economic growth and transformation of the area that will enhance the efforts of the Steubenville Revitalization Group and the Steubenville Hilltop Community Development Corp.,” said Sheridan.

The project eventually would be developed through Good Venture Properties LLC, an affiliate of Franciscan University.

The initial construction work included the relocation of American Electric Power lines, the replacement of a 100-year-old city line and bringing approximately 18,000 cubic yards of soil taken from the former golf course to the site to raise the ground 8 feet.

Then, according to Project Coordinator for Physical Plant Services Vince Oliver, a massive retaining wall was built to hold back the hillside.

“The 17,600-square-foot minor marvel of engineering is a soil-nail type retaining wall. It is anchored by strategically engineered holes drilled into the hillside, some as deep as 50 feet. Each hole was then filled with a reinforcing bar and grout and further supported by the structural concrete facing. Within five years vegetation planted around the hillside shelf will render the wall all but invisible,” Oliver explained.

Oliver said hundreds of workers spent the past 17 months working at the construction site.

“A gathering place in front of the hotel features an astro turf type of material filled with ‘green dirt’ that has a low stone wall for seating for recreational and social events,” Oliver pointed out.

The Inn at Franciscan Square will replace the Best Western hotel on the north side of University Boulevard, which was constructed in the 1960s.

According to the Inn General Manager Jay Cruz, the current Best Western hotel will close when the first guest is booked into the new hotel, “probably early next week.”

Skiviat said the older Best Western will be repurposed for other uses by the university, but Damon’s will remain open for the foreseeable future.

“We chose Best Western because they allowed us to customize the hotel to reflect the Franciscan University of Steubenville philosophy. Guests at the Inn will see quotes from different people painted on the walls in different locations as well as photographs from through the years placed throughout the facility,” noted Skiviat.

Skiviat said two land parcels in front of the Inn are being prepared for office, retail and restaurant tenants by 68 Properties owned by Franco Carapellotti.

“That young man is the bright future of the community and someone we are glad to be working with,” said Skiviat.

University Spokesman Tom Sofio said the new stone wall in front of the Inn is the same stone used for the Franciscan University entrance sign across the street from the hotel.

“When Director of Physical Plant Services Joe McGurn bought the stone for the main entrance to our campus, he bought extra stone material and stored it for a future project. That worked out very well as we create the new gateway entrance on University Boulevard to Steubenville,” Sofio said.

(Gossett can be contacted at dgossett@heraldstaronline.com.)

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