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Lawmaker takes on downtown Charleston eyesore

Charleston Gazette-Mail photo by Kenny Kemp  Chris Walters, who bought the building, said his company would relocate its offices there.
Charleston Gazette-Mail photo by Kenny Kemp
Chris Walters, who bought the building, said his company would relocate its offices there.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A vacant building in downtown Charleston with a colorful history is getting a much-needed facelift.

Chris Walters announced Thursday morning that he has bought the property at 16 Capitol St., with plans to renovate the site and relocate the offices of his company, Structured Financial Associates.

Vacant since 1996 and boasting an unsightly, plywood-covered facade painted a deep shade of green, the building was once the home of the Ernie’s Esquire restaurant, beginning in the early 1970s.

The 5,000-square-foot structure’s history dates back to its construction in 1870.

“This building’s been here for a long time, without anybody caring what happened to it, what its potential was and what effect it would have on downtown Charleston,” Mayor Danny Jones said Thursday.

The building was sold for $185,000. Walters said he plans to invest more than $500,000 in the renovation. He said his company will occupy the second floor, and the first floor will house law offices for a firm that has yet to be identified.

“If we’re going to build West Virginia back, we have to do it ourselves,” said Walters.

He scheduled Thursday’s announcement five days before Election Day. Walters is a Republican state senator from Putnam County who is facing a strong challenge from Democrat Glenn Jeffries for the 8th District Senate seat.

“Us West Virginians have to step up, make the investments, take the risks and move this state and city forward,” Walters said.

 Jim Edwards, former executive director of the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority, noted that the project will be eligible for financial assistance from CURA and in the form of historic tax credits.

“Given the clear blight this building had on Capitol Street, our agency was actually looking at purchasing this building because it was sitting for so long but when it became clear that your firm was in the process of pursuing it, we stepped aside,” Edwards told Walters.

CURA provides matching grants of up to $20,000 to businesses that request funding for facade enhancements.

Structured Financial Associates will also be able to apply for federal and state historic tax credits for rehabilating the historic building.

Walters said they’re going to keep all the exposed brick inside the building to maintain its historic look. Construction is expected to start early next year and take four or five months.

The company bought the building from developer John Smallridge.

Before it became Ernie’s Esquire Club, the space was home to Sam’s Gaslight, with a club on the second floor.

Reach Elaina Sauber at [email protected], 304-348-3051 or follow @ElainaSauber on Twitter.

See more from the Charleston Gazette-Mail. 

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