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Housing potential is building in downtown Wheeling

By CASEY JUNKINS

The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Record

WHEELING, W.Va.  — About 50 people are on a waiting list for apartments at the Boury Lofts complex, so Kip Miller believes the six-story structure once home to Columbia Gas Co. — less than two blocks from the Boury project on 16th Street — could see new life as a residential venture.

Meanwhile, Vice Mayor Chad Thalman said a developer continues working on plans for about 100 apartments in the building which has towered over downtown Wheeling since 1905: the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel structure at 1134 Market St.

Towering above all other downtown Wheeling structures since 1905, the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel headquarters could see new life as an apartment building.
(Intelligencer photo by Casey Junkins)

“The success of the Boury Lofts shows that a lot of people want to live in a downtown, urban environment,” Thalman said. “I anticipate that in the next year, we are going to see some new development for these vacant buildings.”

“If I had the money, I would turn it into apartments. It’s right next to (West Virginia Northern Community College), plus the demand is clear with such a waiting list at the Boury Lofts,” Miller, a Wheeling resident, said of the building his family owns at the corner of 16th and Chapline streets.

Councilwoman Wendy Scatterday, an architect by trade, said the time to renovate buildings for residential space is now, particularly with the potential construction of the PTT Global Chemical ethane cracker in Belmont County.

“There is a wealth of opportunity in downtown Wheeling for folks who understand what it takes to reinvigorate historic buildings,” she said. “If you own a building, get it ready now.”

Wheeling-Pitt building

Thalman declined to identify the potential Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel building developer. However, earlier this year, Coon Restoration and Sealants President Steve Coon said his firm considered a similar project.

Coon did not immediately return a call to his Louisville, Ohio office seeking additional comment.

City leaders have said expanding the tax credit available for restoring historic buildings would make projects similar to the Boury Lofts more viable. Last month, the West Virginia Legislature approved increasing the state credit for such work from 10 percent to 25 percent. This is in addition to a 20-percent credit available on federal taxes.

“You can’t use it to purchase a building. You can use it for the work you do to restore a building,” Thalman said of the credits.

Mayor Glenn Elliott said expanding the credits puts Wheeling in a better position because developers now can receive the same incentive in West Virginia as they can for work in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

“I can say with some degree of certainty that there are buildings in Wheeling that will now be redeveloped as a result of this increase in West Virginia’s historic tax credit,” he said. “For many of our most elegant buildings, it’s no longer a question of if, but instead, when,” Elliott added.

The former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel building was built in 1905 and originally was home to the Schmulbach Brewing Co. It became Wheeling-Pitt’s headquarters during the 1940s.

After a series of corporate mergers, a firm known as RG Steel ultimately took ownership of the building. The steelmaker went bankrupt in 2012, with the Market Street building left vacant by early 2013.

Cost estimates to repurpose the property’s 144,000-square-foot interior for residential space range from $18 million to $20 million. Elliott said the tax credit increase has led to more conversations about the Wheeling-Pitt building and other downtown structures.

“My job is to ensure that the city works with developers and interested parties to help move qualifying projects forward. Conversations in this regard are ongoing, particularly in the past few weeks since the passage of this legislation,” he added.

Columbia Gas building

Another vacant, multi-story downtown building is the former Columbia Gas of West Virginia headquarters at the corner of 16th and Chapline streets, which opened in the early 1960s. In the mid-1980s, the company changed its name to Mountaineer Gas Co., and left the building around the same time.

Miller said his father, J.D. Miller, ran his law office on the first floor of the structure for many years after acquiring the building in the mid-1980s. However, the upper floors have only been used as storage space since Columbia vacated them.

Miller said the structure has been vacant since spring 2015 when the law office closed, about six months after his father’s death.

“When it belonged to Columbia Gas, they would park trucks in the basement, so there is parking in the basement,” Miller said. “In addition to the headquarters, they had a showroom that they used to show the benefits of using gas appliances compared to electric ones.”

Thalman said he and some other city officials walked through the Columbia building about a year ago.

“It is a neat building,” Thalman said. “It certainly has some potential, but there is some work that needs done for the upper floors to be used.”

Miller said a fire sprinkler pipe on one of the upper floors broke during a winter deep-freeze a few years ago. This led to water damage that forced Miller to remove the carpeting and ceiling tile on every floor except the ground floor.

“It does not meet current fire codes for the upper floors,” he said. “The elevator also needs repaired.”

Miller said he estimates an investor would need to spend about $1 million to get the building into shape for using all six floors. This would include both the purchase price, as well as the work needed on the interior.

“It was appraised at $300,000 a few years ago. But, that was before the Boury Lofts and before The Health Plan (headquarters),” Miller said. “The market has changed.”

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